Runway safety remains one of the most serious threats to aviation safety. Because of this, ICAO and CAA see it as a high priority.

Runway safety includes runway incursions, runway excursions, and runway confusion. Improving runway safety requires collaboration from all stakeholders including ATC, airports, CAA, aircraft operators, and everybody who operates around a runway.

Runway incursion

The ICAO definition of a runway incursion is “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”. Approximately 5-10 occur in New Zealand every month, and have the potential to result in fatal collisions.

Incident reports show that runway incursions do not occur randomly around an aerodrome, but are often clustered at hotspots. Hotspot diagrams are an ICAO-endorsed and internationally recognised method of providing information about aerodrome locations with an increased risk for incursions. Significant hotspots may be included in the aerodrome diagrams in the AIP.

Runway excursion

A runway excursion occurs when an aircraft veers off, or overruns, the runway surface during either take-off or landing. This can be caused by factors including runway contamination, adverse weather conditions, mechanical failure, pilot error, and unstable approaches. While New Zealand has had no fatal runway excursion incidents, the high number of international accidents demands a proactive approach to manage the risk.

Runway confusion

Runway confusion occurs when pilots enter, take off, or land on the wrong runway. This is a particular problem at aerodromes with parallel runway systems. Runway confusion can also occur when a taxiway, usually parallel, is mistaken for a runway - this is more often a problem at night.

In addition to thoroughly planning your aerodrome operation and maintaining situational awareness, to avoid runway confusion:

  • pay careful attention to runways in clearances;
  • always read back an assigned runway in full, for example three one left;
  • if a non-precision approach, circling approach or a visual approach is being flown, take sufficient time during the approach briefing to confirm how you will positively identify the correct runway;
  • whenever conditions permit, make sure you visually identify the correct runway before you enter or land on it. Signage, orientation and runway markings are all important identifying features;
  • runway lighting is different to taxiway lighting and should provide the flight crew with an opportunity to distinguish one from the other.

Airside drivers

Airside drivers play an important role in runway safety at all aerodromes. There are instances of vehicles being involved in serious runway incursions, so drivers need to ensure they're prepared to operate safely.

Airservices Australia - An airside driver's guide to runway safety(external link) (under heading 'Airside drivers')

Local runway safety teams

Local runway safety teams (LRST) are an important component of the global runway safety program. The LRST consists of local representatives addressing local runway safety issues. At some airports the LRST is embedded in another aerodrome meeting, such as the Aerodrome Users Group or Airport Safety Committee.

The LRST should include representatives from the aerodrome operators, air traffic services, commercial air operators, representatives of flight crew familiar with the aerodrome, and members from the general aviation community (if applicable). It may also include the regulatory authority (as an observer), military operator (if applicable, based on joint use of the aerodrome), support services (de-icing, catering, ground handling, etc.), emergency response service providers, and subject matter experts such as meteorologists and ornithologists. Consideration may also be given to periodically inviting members of other LRSTs to promote coordination, learning and the sharing of information.

Airservices Australia - Establishing a local runway safety team (LSRT)(external link) (under heading 'Local runway safety teams') 

Example terms of reference for a local runway safety team 

The terms of reference of a local runway safety team (LRST) should include, at a minimum, the following activities:

  • analyse the safety data relating to the number, type, and, if available, severity of runway incursions;
  • consider the outcome of investigation reports in order to identify local hotspots or problem areas at the aerodrome;
  • work as a cohesive team to better understand the operating difficulties of personnel working in other areas and recommending areas for improvement;
  • ensure that recommendations for the prevention of runway incursions are implemented;
  • identify any local problem areas and suggest improvements;
  • conduct runway safety awareness campaigns that focus on local issues, for example, producing and distributing local hot spot maps or other guidance material as considered necessary;
  • regularly review the aerodrome and runway operations to proactively identify any situation that may contribute to runway safety risks.

Runway safety resources

ICAO Runway safety tools(external link) 
ICAO Global runway safety action plan(external link) 
Airservices Australia - Runway safety checklists(external link) 
Airservices Australia - Safety publications(external link)
Airservices Australia - Safety forum calendar(external link)
Airservices Australia - Safety and pilot education videos(external link)

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If you have any questions about this topic, use our contact form, or email aeronauticalservices@caa.govt.nz