What is a Runway Incursion?

ICAO defines a runway incursion as any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take off of aircraft.

Different sets of data vary, and the categorization taxonomy was changed last year to match that of ICAO, but somewhere between one and two runway incursions occurs each day in the United States, and the potential for a catastrophic accident is “unacceptable,” according to the FAA’s risk/severity matrix. The likelihood for runway incursions grows exponentially as a function of air traffic growth. The data collected before and after 9/11 clearly show this relationship.

In March 1977, in what remains the world’s deadliest aviation accident, two passenger jumbo jets collided on a runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, causing the deaths of 583 passengers and crew. While CRM and some other actions were born out of that disaster, realization of the runway incursion aspect was not so directly grasped.

The deadliest U.S. runway incursion accident was a collision between a USAir 737 and a Skywest Metroliner commuter airplane at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in February 1991, which killed 34 people.

Most recently, in July 2006, at O’Hare International Airport, a United 737 passenger jet and an Atlas Air 747 cargo airplane nearly collided. The 747 had been cleared to land on 14L and was taxiing on the runway towards the cargo area when the 737 was cleared to take off on the intersecting runway (now called Rwy 28), over the 747. The pilot of the United 737 passenger jet took off early to avoid a collision with the 747. This collision was avoided by about 35 feet.

The runway incursion issue has been on the National Transportation Safety Board’s Most Wanted list since the list’s inception in 1990, and is one of only two issues that still remains from that original list. ALPA has been pursuing the issue in several venues since before this list began.

Overall, the runway incursion issue is one of the best studied, quantified and documented, and the industry readily knows what needs to be done. ALPA’s March 2007 White Paper, entitled Runways Incursions—A Call to Action did serve to catalyze the action currently being undertaken. The Association has played an active role for a long time, and is continuing to push this issue forward, for the membership and the traveling public.