NTSB Recommends Safety Enhancements for Airport Ground Operations

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) each year issues a “Most Wanted List” consisting of its top ten recommendations for improving the safety of the nation’s transportation and infrastructure.

Included in the current list are recommendations for improving the safety of airport “surface operations,” or the movements of airplanes on runways and taxiways.

The NTSB points out that some of the deadliest airplane accidents occur on the ground.
The single deadliest aviation accident in history occurred in 1977 in the Canary Islands when two airliners collided on a runway, killing 583 people.
In 1991 at Los Angeles International Airport, two planes collided during a runway incursion, killing 34.
In August 2006 in Lexington, Kentucky, a pilot attempted to take off on the wrong runway. 49 people were killed.

The report says that pilots need better informational resources to improve awareness of their environment during airport surface operations. One solution is systems that monitor ground movement, such as real-time map displays in cockpits. Another solution is to implement a system whereby a plane’s assigned departure runway is cross-checked against the plane’s location before takeoff.

Certain newly-developed systems, including signals for landing planes that indicate occupied runways, can provide direct, automatic warnings in the cockpit, eliminating the delay inherent in warnings that must be issued by air traffic controllers.

The NTSB also recommends enhancements to flight simulators to prepare pilots for dangerous real-world conditions such as gusting crosswinds.

According to the report, the number of “serious” runway incursions has decreased significantly in the past decade, but the overall rate of runway incursions is trending fairly steady.

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