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  • Kate Johnpeer

Runway Incursions: What to Watch For

Updated: Feb 20

To state the obvious, aircraft don’t just fly, they move along the ground making ground operations a large piece of aviation safety. Aircraft can move at fast rates of speed on the ground and are large chunks of metal to be stopping on a dime. What can you be doing to make ground operations safer? Exercise caution when you are near runways!

To drive home the point of the critical nature of ground operations, think about the island of Tenerife in Spain. A breathtaking island paradise became the site of the worst aviation disaster in history in 1977 when two Boeing 747's collided. There are many factors to evaluate regarding this tragedy, but it is a stark reminder that risks from aviation do not require us to be airborne. This leads to a term that is worthy of review - Runway incursions.

The FAA defines a runway incursion as, "any occurrence at an aerodrome (a European term for airport) involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft." A runway incursion can involve action by the FAA but also can cause significant tragedy. Whether acting as a pilot, a technician, or a member of a line service team, when moving aircraft or machinery in the aircraft movement area it is critical that each of us is aware of the risk and respond by raising awareness and adhering to established procedures.

When moving an aircraft or vehicle at an airport, reference your position in accordance with airport diagrams noting the areas that pose more risk than others. Our industry uses a tool to help us become aware of critical locations on an airport surface. The tool is not made of metal, but it is in the form of ink on airport diagrams. Specifically, these are circles around intersections, and contain the letters “HS” designating a hot spot. You’ve probably seen them many times, and there is a good chance you know what they are, but do you point them out and discuss them with your crew members? Do you heighten your awareness during ground movement when they are present?

What do these markings on airport diagrams represent? ICAO defines a hot spot as “a location on an aerodrome movement area with a history or potential risk of collision or runway incursion, and where heightened attention by pilots/drivers is necessary.” Usually, hot spots are complex or confusing intersections due to a variety of factors including unique airport layouts, heavy traffic flow, airport marking, signage and lighting that may be difficult to see, and busy training operations in certain locations.

So, what can you do? The FAA suggests that operators maintain a sterile cockpit and eliminate distractions and extraneous conversation during taxi. This is also true when driving a ground vehicle (fuel truck or other airport vehicle). While moving on an airport surface is not a good time to be checking the latest stock prices or texting a loved one about dinner.

  1. Have a “heads up” and “eyes out” policy when taxiing or moving on the surface.

  2. Use airport diagrams and any technology available to identify and track your position.

  3. Don’t rush it…maintain an appropriate speed.

  4. Ensure that you review markings and ground safety topics during training and be sure to clarify any questions you might have with an instructor.

  5. During your next department meeting, find time to discuss airports you have seen that have challenging hot spots and unique factors and features that would warrant awareness.

Next time you are moving an aircraft or vehicle on an airport’s surface, do so with pre-planning and reference to the airport diagram, fully aware of the hot spots. Be cautious when in close proximity to runways, ensuring you do not enter unless you've received clearance to do so. Be purposeful about traveling as safely on the ground as you travel in the air!

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