Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Close Calls On The Runways

Having a clearance doesn’t always guarantee that you’re clear

INCURSION STATS. In 2010, the trend for runway incursions rose from quarter to quarter, with 192 in the first, 220 in the second, 270 in the third, and 294 in the final three months, for a total of 966.
Prominent on its list of Most Wanted Safety Improvements for 2011 is an assessment by the NTSB that the FAA needs to speed up improvements to procedures and equipment in order to help eliminate runway incursions.

The NTSB says the FAA needs to give immediate warnings of probable collisions and incursions directly to flight crews, rather than filtering the information through controllers. It also says the FAA should require operators to install moving-map displays or an automatic system that alerts pilots when a takeoff is attempted on a taxiway or a runway other than the one intended. It also says pilots should do a landing distance assessment with an adequate safety margin for every landing.

By the way, other subjects making the NTSB’s Most Wanted list were: improved oversight of pilot proficiency; requiring crash-proof image recorders in some cockpits; improving the safety of emergency medical-services flights; improving crew resource management; reducing fatigue; and reducing dangers to aircraft flying in icing conditions.

In the vast majority of reported runway incursions, there’s little potential for an accident. The same is likely true of unreported and unquantified runway incursions at uncontrolled airports where incidents may end with a few unkind words on radio rather than the crunching of aluminum. When an accident at a major airport is narrowly avoided, the Safety Board wants to find out if there are systemic shortcomings or lapses in human performance.


Just after 10:15 on the morning of May 29, 2009, PSA Airlines flight 390 came close to hitting a single-engine Pilatus PC-12 on runway 18L at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) in Charlotte, N.C. The Canadair Regional Jet CRJ-200 was on a Part 121 flight from CLT to the New Bern Craven County Airport (EWN), New Bern, N.C. Flight 390 had a crew of three and 43 passengers. The PC-12 had two pilots and one passenger. It was on a Part 91 IFR flight to Asheville Regional Airport (AVL), Asheville, N.C.

Flight 390, using the identifier “Bluestreak 390,” had been cleared to taxi to runway 18L. A couple of minutes later, the PC-12 contacted ground control for taxi clearance and the pilot said they wanted to “waive the wake” indicating that the pilot was waiving any holding required for wake turbulence from a preceding aircraft. The controller cleared the PC-12 to taxi to runway 18L, hold short of taxiway D, and expect an intersection departure at taxiway A. At 10:13:26, the PC-12 was told to cross taxiway D and taxi to the intersection of taxiway A and runway 18L. Taxiway A intersected runway 18L approximately 2,500 feet from its approach end.

At 10:15:11, the local controller cleared flight 390 to taxi into position and hold at the approach end of runway 18L and advised that there was traffic landing on runway 23, which intersected runway 18L. At 10:16:40, the local controller cleared flight 390 for takeoff. Flight 390 acknowledged and began its takeoff roll. Three seconds later, at 10:16:47, the local controller directed the PC-12 to taxi into position and hold on runway 18L. The pilot of the PC-12 had been holding short of runway 18L on the east side of the runway at taxiway A, and had not radioed the controller that he was ready for departure. The control tower was equipped with airport surface detection equipment (ASDE). As the PC-12 entered the runway, the ASDE system activated with an aural alert: “Warning, runway 18L occupied.” The tower controllers immediately began scanning to identify the conflict. At 10:17:10, the local controller canceled the takeoff clearance for the regional jet by radioing, “uhm cancel takeoff clearance uhm Bluestreak.” At 10:17:22, flight 390 transmitted that they were “rejecting 18L.”


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