Runway incursions a worldwide concern


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 an aircraft.

The frequency of runway incursions are becoming a worldwide concern and many countries are developing safety programs to try to reduce the frequency. It is not just private pilots who make this type of error. Forty-three per cent of the runway incursions in the United States involve commercial aircraft.

A Beech 200 Aircraft at Kitchener/Waterloo Airport was taxiing Alpha then Bravo taxiways for departure on runway 32. The pilot missed the turn onto Bravo and taxied onto runway 32. Another aircraft was 1/2 mile final and was instructed to pull up.                  

A Piper Navajo was in position preparing to commence the take-off roll on Runway 07 at Fort McMurray when the pilot of a Bell 205 called FSS ready to cross the runway heading south. The helicopter pilot was passed the Navajo traffic on two occasions then proceeded to take off across the runway. The pilot of the Navajo rejected the take-off.

A Piper PA46 350P, at Saint John (CYSJ) received an airport advisory and confirmed a planned departure from Runway 23. An Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance was obtained and relayed to the aircraft for the Runway 23 departure. The pilot reported ready to take position and reported airborne approximately two minutes later. The Runway 23 threshold was visible from the Flight Service Station (FSS) but Runway 32 was not due to fog. After reporting airborne, the FSS questioned if the pilot had departed Runway 32 because the FSS did not see the aircraft take position on Runway 23. The pilot confirmed that he had departed Runway 32 in error.

A Britten Norman BN-2B-21 was taxiing at Ottawa (CYOW) and a DA-20-A1 Katana was conducting a circuit. The BN-2B-21 crossed runway 04 at taxiway TANGO without permission, resulting in the Katana on final approach to runway 04 to initiate an overshoot. The radio in the BN-2B-21 was weak and scratchy and when the pilots heard another aircraft being cleared across another runway, they assumed the clearance was for them. They did not acknowledge or read back the mistaken clearance.

The crew of a Convair 580 landed on runway 34 at Calgary (CYYC) and were instructed to exit on taxiway C4. The crew actually turned eastbound onto runway 28 where an EMB 290 was 1.5 miles final. The EMB 290 overshot.

A Piper PA 30 taxiing at St. Catherine’s Airport (CRSN) advised they would be performing an intersection departure off runway 06. They were advised that a PA 28 was on left base for runway 06. The PA 30 turned left rather than right and departed off runway 30. The PA 28 on final was forced to deviate to avoid a collision.

A Cessna 172N was taxiing at London International Airport (CYXU) while a DV-20 Eclipse was on approach to runway 33. The C-172N entered runway 33 without permission while the Eclipse was on final, forcing it to overshoot.

The pilot of a Cessna 340 backtracked for departure on runway12 at Lethbridge while a Piper 28 Cherokee reported right base for runway 12. The Lethbridge FSS Specialist noticed the PA28 was on final for runway 05, not 12. The Specialist requested the PA 28 pilot hold short of runway 12 after landing on 05, which was acknowledged. The C-340 took-off and became airborne prior to runway 05 as the PA 28 taxied through the intersection.

The reasons for runway incursions generally fall into five categories. Confusion or disorientation and being unfamiliar with the airport were likely the cause of the mistakes made by the PA 46, PA 30, Be20 and CV 580 pilots.

Misunderstood communications were likely the causes for the errors made by the Bell 205, BN-2B-21 and PA 28 pilots. The Bell 205 pilot may have believed that the Navajo pilot was holding for him. The BN-2B-21 pilot had poor radio reception and did not acknowledge the clearance. An acknowledgement may have given the controller the chance to clear up the misunderstanding. The PA 28 pilot may not have understood the clearance to hold short of runway 12. If he did and wasn’t able to hold short, he should have made a radio call to notify the C-340 and the FSS specialist.

Communication misunderstandings occur more frequently at airports where the controllers are very busy and are speaking at a rapid rate. Pilots may not be certain who is being talked to at a given moment. If in doubt, ask.

Our work load is often high just before take-off as we are completing checklists and briefing passengers. This may have been the reason for the C-172 to enter runway 33 at London with an aircraft on final approach.

The final reason for runway incursions is fatigue. It is not possible to tell from the incidents listed above if fatigue was a factor in any of them, but fatigue does reduce our ability to concentrate and makes us susceptible to these sorts of errors.

We can reduce the possibility of making these errors ourselves if we spend a little time studying the layouts of any unfamiliar airports we are intending to use. We should use caution before entering or crossing any runway, active or not. We should read back any instruction to "line up and wait" or to "hold short."

We must listen to all radio traffic to maintain an awareness of what other aircraft and vehicle traffic is doing. We should question anything that seems out of place. We must maintain a lookout for other traffic. They may not be where they say they are or they misunderstand our intentions or a controller’s instructions.

There may be two or four footed intruders on or near the runway. Finally, we must avoid complacency. Be alert, be defensive, be safe.

Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies air charters. He still freelances as a flying instructor and seminar facilitator. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.

Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: