ANNAPOLIS – For people getting ready to board a plane during one of the busiest travel times of the year, a report of a runway incident at a local airport is the last thing they want to hear.
But a recent near-collision at Baltimore-Washington International Airport that went unreported has safety officials concerned about the number of runway incidents that go unreported.
Runway safety has improved greatly since 2000, with runway incursions decreasing by 50 percent, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Fraser Jones. A runway incursion occurs when an aircraft, vehicle or person on the ground creates a collision hazard with an aircraft that intends to or is landing or taking off.
Two runway incursions occurred at BWI between November 2003 and November 2004. During the same time, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport had no reported incidents, according to Jim Peters, FAA spokesman.
Reagan airport’s yearly rate of runway incursions, which is based on every 100,000 operations, has been zero in three of the last four years: In 2001 it hit 1.22. BWI’s rate reached a height of 1.29 in 2002 before falling to 0.68 in 2003, according to the FAA’s Runway Safety Report.
Washington Dulles International Airport recorded three runway incursions in 2003 and a 0.81 rate. Hagerstown Regional Airport recorded a rate of 3.84 in 2001.
Officials insist that any recent incidents are no reason for alarm among passengers.
“I think the American runways are the safest the world has to offer,” said Jones. “Safety is really a shared responsibility, but there is no hesitancy to recommend taking to the skies for the holiday.”
The incident that has safety officials worried concerned a near-miss between a Cessna plane and a DC-8 on Nov. 6 that was reported to the National Transportation Safety Board by a pilot of one of the planes, not the Federal Aviation Administration.
No report was filed because everything was safe and there is no obligation to do so when there is no incident to report on, said Peters.
It was not until a call from a local paper regarding the incident that the FAA listened to air traffic control tapes for the two aircraft involved. From those tapes, it was determined the Cessna exited onto the taxiway and was approximately 5,000 feet from the DC-8, which had not yet landed, said Peters.
The information and air traffic control tapes are being turned over to the NTSB.
While this incident does not appear to be serious, the NTSB has questioned the reporting of runway incidents.
“Our concern is that we want to make sure those numbers are accurate and reported in an accurate manner,” said Lauren Peduzzi, NTSB spokeswoman. “We want to find out if this is an isolated incident, or if there are some things that need to be evaluated.”
Peduzzi supported the safety of air travel, but said the NTSB wants to ensure it continues to become safer.
“Overall, aviation has a great safety record,” said Peduzzi. “We want to make sure proper safety systems are in place to prevent similar situations.”
BWI has ground radar that gives the air traffic controller a view of runways and taxiways. That radar also has an additional feature called airport surface movement safety system, or AMASS, which is software that alerts a controller if there is anything on an active runway that shouldn’t be. There was no alert from the AMASS system for the Nov. 6 event, said Peters.
“Runway safety,” said Peters, “is one of our top priorities.”