Safety Summit Examines Runway Excursions

 - August 1, 2022, 7:40 AM

Runway excursion accidents are trending upward significantly, but new approaches to go-around decision-making can reduce such mishaps, safety experts reported in May at the Flight Safety Foundation’s 2022 Business Aviation Safety Summit (BASS) in Savannah, Georgia.

More than 60 years of accident data show runway excursions have accounted for 30 percent of mishaps (totaling 796 accidents involving 1,498 fatalities), but in comparison with other categories, they are “growing in proportion, and in some years exceeding 50 percent” of all accidents, said Henry Gourdji, FSS v-p, technical. Moreover, FOQA data from GE presented at the summit revealed that most excursions occur in June, July, and August, when contributing factors such as ice and snow are absent. (The U.S. accounts for about 51 percent of all business aviation accidents.) About four out of five excursions occur during the landing phase.

Decision-making processes are coming under scrutiny as possible keys to understanding and shaping human behavior to break this accident chain. At BASS, reviews of CVR transcripts preceding a pair of 2019 excursions—involving the Cessna Citation Latitude owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and an Alaska-based PenAir Saab 2000 scheduled flight at Dutch Harbor—revealed a lack of proper risk assessment that can contribute to such accidents.

In a session on Runway Safety and Risk Management, Charlie Precourt, former astronaut and chair of the Citation Jet Pilot Owners Association (CJP), and Martin Smith, Ph.D., founder of Presage Group, an aviation safety consultancy, explained the Safe to Land initiative that the two organizations are implementing at CJP for single-pilot operations. The study and initiative—funded by the CJP Safety and Education Foundation, FlightSafety International, Textron Aviation, Garmin, NBAA, and the Air Charter Safety Foundation—redefine criteria for making stabilized approaches and go-around decisions to safe, but less-rigid standards, providing crews with tools they feel confident applying.

The protocols were tested on FlightSafety’s Citation simulators at its Wichita learning center by 22 CJP members, who flew more than 200 approaches to evaluate and refine the new procedures.

Presage's risk-mitigation processes, already used by some two dozen airlines worldwide, incorporate pilots’ input to identify real-world limits for continuing an unstabilized approach in their individual operations, with simultaneous buy-in from regulators, union representatives, and other stakeholders.

"We fully expect the Safe to Land initiative will have a big impact on mitigating future runway excursions," Precourt said, adding that CJP members’ jets, numbering some 1,000, have been accident- and incident-free for 19 months, thanks to safety initiatives CJP has already implemented.

FlightSafety International (FSI) and Presage announced at BASS plans to partner on a similar initiative for Gulfstream operators, to commence this summer using FSI-built simulators of Gulfstream’s newest model jets. This will be the first landing/go-around decision study of two-pilot business aviation operations, according to FSI and Presage.

Accidents in the landing phase during circle-to-land and traffic pattern operations are also drawing concern. The NTSB’s David Lawrence, national resource specialist, air carrier operations, and a senior accident investigator, reviewed two such accidents that occurred last year: a Part 91 Challenger 605 accident in Truckee and a Learjet 35 Part 135 air ambulance repositioning flight accident in El Cajon, California.

The two accident investigations are still underway, but Lawrence noted that while both crews were highly experienced, the approaches were performed in reduced visibility, and the crashes occurred while the aircraft were making tight turns to align with the runway on final.

Runway incursions (uncleared aircraft taxiing onto runways) and wrong-surface operations (aircraft landing on or departing from surfaces other than those assigned or intended) are also getting more attention from the FAA, Anthony Schneider, the agency’s director of safety, air traffic organization, said at BASS.

The U.S. averages about 1,500 incursions per year, and though only four to six of them rate in the most severe category, the FAA “is really focused on reducing runway incursions in the aggregate,” Schneider said. The FAA has installed new ground radar displays at 44 of the busiest facilities as part of its effort to reduce both incursions and wrong-surface operations, he said.