American aviation regulators are investigating after two planes nearly collided on a runaway in New York last week, and Canadian safety boards want more measures put in place to prevent close calls from happening here.
A runway incursion is an aviation term for the improper positioning of vehicles, planes or people on any airport runway or its protected area — being in the wrong place at the wrong time, essentially.
The rate of runway incursions is a concern for national airline safety boards, as the number of incidents have doubled over the past decade.
According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the number of incidents in the country grew from 5.3 incursions per 100,000 arrivals and departures in 2010 to 10.7 in 2021.
“While none of them have resulted in a collision, the point is, is that’s suggests there’s an elevated level of risk and that needs to be addressed,” said Kathy Fox, a former air traffic controller and current chair of the TSB.
In 2021, Nav Canada recorded 471 runway incursions on Canadian runways.
During an interview with Global News, Fox recalled a deadly incursion that occurred on Feb. 11, 1978.
There was a snowblower on the landing strip in Cranbrook, B.C., that forced Pacific Western Airlines Flight 314 to overshoot the runway — crashing and killing 42 people on board.
“Runway incursions can be catastrophic,” Fox said.
“Fortunately, they don’t happen very often, but we believe that a lot more can be done to reduce the risk of a collision.”
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Amercian officials are investigating a close call at a New York airport last Friday night between a plane that was crossing a runway and another that was preparing for takeoff.
“(Expletive)! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance!” an air controller said in an audio recording of Air Traffic Control communications when he noticed the other plane, operated by American Airlines, crossing in front.
The recording was made by LiveATC, a website that monitors and posts flight communications.
Delta Air Lines’ departing Boeing 737 plane then came to a safe stop on the John F. Kennedy International Airport runway as the other crossed in front.
The Delta plane stopped about 1,000 feet (about 0.3 kilometers) from where the American Airlines plane had crossed from an adjacent taxiway, according to a statement from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane returned to the gate, where the 145 passengers deplaned and were provided overnight accommodations. Both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are looking into the incident at JFK.
On this side of the border, Fox said Transport Canada, Nav Canada, and airports have all taken steps to reduce the number of incursions happening across the country — including improving communication and identifying high-risk areas at airports that could result in an incursion.
“What we would like to see is more emphasis on technology to provide a direct-to-pilot warning in the event that a vehicle or another aircraft strays on a runway that they are using,” she said.
Chris Miles, vice-president of operations and infrastructure with the Calgary International Airport, believes YYC is already exceeding the safety guidelines from Transport Canada when it comes to runway safety.
“We do recommend is that our operators, the airlines, keep their transponders on when they’re on the ground taxiing, and any vehicle that actually interacts with the runway or taxiway is mandated to have transponders,” Miles said.
Along with the use of transponders, the airport says it has also constructed specified routes for aircraft to take to the runway, which they believe can minimize any runway crossing.
With these measures, the airport says it has reduced the number of its runway incursions by half over the past five years.
“Our goal obviously is zero incursions, and the only way to get to that zero incursions is to generate the awareness of how critical runway safety is,” Miles said.
— With files from Maysoon Khan, The Associated Press
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