In the past few months there has been an increase in runway incursions in various parts of the world, and it is a trend that needs to be acknowledged by the airline industry before a serious accident occurs.On 11 October 2016, a China Eastern Airlines Airbus A320-200 was on take-off roll at Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport. The aircraft had already reached decision speed when the crew noticed an Airbus A330-300 from the same airline crossing the runway right in front of them. The crew pushed ahead with the takeoff and firewalled the engines, managing to out-climb the A330, but only narrowly, coming within 19 meters of striking it.
In a separate incident on March 18 2016, a China Southern Airbus A319 carrying 90 people entered runway 24R at Cheongju while a Korean Boeing 737-800 touched down on the same runway, forcing the 737 to veer left and almost off the runway in order to avoid it. After investigating the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority reported that the 737 had come within 3 meters of striking the nose of the A319.
These incidents are the most serious in a succession of occurrences in 2016 that surely have to raise red flags with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization). When reading back on some other occurrences in 2016, it is clear that the incidents used as examples above are not isolated. Below are some other occurrences that stand out from many others in 2016:
- Oct 11th 2016, Hongqiao – China Eastern A333 / A322, runway incursion
- Aug 17th 2016, Adelaide – Alliance Airlines F50 / Jetstar Airways A322, runway incursion
- Jun 13th 2016, Toronto – Endeavor CRJ9 / Westjet 738, runway incursion
- May 9th 2016, Toronto – Endeavor CRJ9 / Endeavor CRJ9, runway incursion
- May 5th 2016, Seoul – Korean Air A332 / Singapore Airlines 773, runway incursion
- Apr 6th 2016, Toronto – Fedex MD11 / Endeavor CRJ9, runway incursion
- Mar 18th 2016, Cheongju – China Southern A319 / Korean Airlines 738, runway incursion
- Mar 7th 2016, Basel/Mulhouse – KLM Cityhopper ERJ-190 / Skyworks Do-328, runway incursion
- Jan 30th 2016, Toronto – Air Canada ERJ-190 / Air Canada A322, runway incursion
The result of some of these incidents could have been far worse had other factors such as bad visibility played a role. The sheer seriousness of these events are doubled by the fact that in almost all of the examples, two aircraft are involved, in some cases featuring widebody aircraft with many passengers. One only has to think back to the Tenerife disaster in 1977 to recall the scale and devastation of an accident when two large aircraft collide on a runway. In this accident two Boeing 747s struck one another in bad visibility, killing 583 people. This remains the worst aviation accident in history.
While reading through incidents from 2016 and 2015, it becomes apparent that one and sometimes two factors prevented a major accident from occurring. In many instances, crew response to incursion was the primary preventative action, while ATC instructions prevented collisions in other cases. In many aviation accidents in history, it is always a series of events that combine to cause a major accident, and when reading through many of the aforementioned incidents one only has to add one or two extra factors that could have rendered each one fatal. A big factor that was missing in some of these was bad visibility. In the cases where only crew action prevented the accident from happening, the addition of bad visibility would without a doubt have caused an accident.
A question one could raise in the modern day and age of technology, is whether or not airline pilots have a preventative aid to help them identify imminent danger on a runway when on final approach, or when taking off. The technology does in fact exist in the form of the Honeywell RAAS (Runway Awareness and Advisory System). The RAAS system uses an aircraft’s existing EGPWS (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System) to provide air crew with enhanced data and warnings regarding runway condition and an aircraft’s position relative to runways and taxiways. The system can warn pilots if another aircraft incurs upon the active runway, and in bad visibility this system can be the difference between a simple go-around and a major airline accident.
Unlike TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System), which is a mandatory safety device on all ICAO compliant airlines, the RAAS system is not mandatory. Given the nature of and regularity of runway incursions, it is high time for the industry make the usage of systems such as Honeywell RAAS mandatory on all ICAO compliant aircraft.
One can only hope that the introduction of systems such as RAAS doesn’t follow the same plot that was seen with the introduction of TCAS, which was only made compulsory after a series of major mid-air collisions. The IATA and ICAO must take charge of the introduction of these systems, and not allow the process of establishing fare competiton between suppliers and other red tape to delay it’s introduction on all airlines before another major accident occurs in an environment of constantly expanding traffic volumes.