Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


Opening Statement: Runway Incursion Safety Issues: Prevention and Mitigation
Christopher A. Hart
Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and I am a Member of the NTSB. Joining me on this board of inquiry are Dana Schulze, Deputy Director of Aviation Safety; and Dr. Loren Groff, our senior research analyst. It is my privilege to welcome you to this forum, Runway Incursion Safety Issues: Prevention and Mitigation, and thank you for attending. . I’d like to acknowledge in the audience Chairman Robert Sumwalt and Member Earl Weener. Thank you for attending.

The good news is that it has been more than 11 years since the last fatal Part 121 air carrier runway incursion accident in the U.S, which occurred in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2006. The bad news, and the reason that we convened this forum, is that despite several interventions, the most severe incursions, categories A and B, have been on the rise since 2011, after declining for several years. Thus, it is clear that we do not adequately understand the problem.  The purpose of this forum is to gain a better understanding of the problem because we must understand the problem in order to be able to address it.

The FAA defines runway incursions as the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft. Fortunately, runway incursions most often result in near misses rather than accidents. The Lexington accident was a runway incursion because the flight crew attempted to take off from the wrong runway, which was much shorter than the one that they were instructed to use. The airplane ran off the end of the runway and impacted the airport perimeter fence, trees, and terrain, killing 49 people and seriously injuring the sole survivor, the first officer.

Lexington was a watershed moment in government and industry actions to prevent runway incursions.

The FAA formed a Runway Safety Group (RSG) to work alongside industry and pilot groups to address the problem. Runway Safety Action Teams (RSATs) work collaboratively at the airport level, armed with knowledge that is specific to each airport.

On the technology side, twenty of the country’s busiest airports are scheduled to receive Runway Status Lights (RWSL), including three that are transitioning from prototype sites to production sites.

Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE) alerts controllers who, in turn, alert pilots of developing conflicts. Runway Incursion Warning Systems are being developed to bring ASDE information to the drivers of vehicles on the airport surface.

In the cockpit, moving map displays with “own ship position” have the potential to provide similar immediate awareness to pilots.

On the airport surface, improved signage, markings, elevated runway guard lights (AKA, “wig-wag lights”), and improvements to airport geometry are continuously improving runway safety.

And a change in procedures regarding how aircraft are issued taxi instructions was also introduced to reduce the risk of incursions.

In fact, there has been so much action on this topic since Lexington that Runway Incursions no longer appear on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.

Now, after all of these new procedures and technologies that generated improvements for several years, we are being forced to confront again the issue of why the decline has turned around.

To enhance our knowledge, we have brought together experts from the aviation industry, from the Air Line Pilots Association, from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, from government, and from the international aviation community. Our panels will address the statistics and trends; the air traffic control perspective; the aviation operations perspective, and the airports perspective.

Finally, we will end with a roundtable session. Our objective is to end the forum with a better understanding of what is going wrong so that we can fix it. We hope to do that with our roundtable by following the very successful Commercial Aviation Safety Team model of collaboration.  We will bring the panelists from the forum together for a constructive exchange of ideas and suggestions regarding prevention and mitigations to the runway incursion risks we have identified.  Thanks in advance to all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules for these two days. By doing so, you have enabled a collaboration that will help us address this important issue.


Before we begin, I would like to note that, based upon the FAA’s definition of runway incursion that I mentioned earlier, the near miss in July at San Francisco International Airport involving an Airbus A320 that nearly landed on a taxiway was not a runway incursion event.  Thus, although it is the subject of an ongoing NTSB investigation, we will not be discussing it in this forum.

As you entered the boardroom this morning you may have noticed several industry displays related to runway incursion prevention and mitigation.

In aviation, industry has a long history of engaging in collaborative safety efforts, and these companies and organizations have brought these displays for your information and discussion. I should note, however, that the NTSB does not specifically endorse a particular product.

I’ll now turn to Dan Bartlett for a safety briefing and some information about how this forum will proceed.

Mr. Bartlett.