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Mon, Feb 19, 2007

Runway Safety Is For Mechanics, Too

WAI Panel Held For Those Who Don't Fly

Runway excursions are one of the FAA’s pet peeves. Pilots are not the only ones involved... line service workers and mechanics are also responsible for moving aircraft to and fro on an airport surface.

At this weekend's Women in Aviation conference, Dr. Paul Foster, Jr. presented a forum on runway safety, for those who don’t fly. Foster maintains mechanics move more planes than pilots. ATC counts flights, but not surface movements.

"In the morning when the crew shows up to the terminal, how did the aircraft get there?" Foster asked. "Maintenance brought it over. Last flight of the night who takes the aircraft to the hangar?"

One of Foster’s first suggestions is that pilots talk to their mechanics. "That aircraft there that they’re taxiing belongs to you. You want to protect it." Foster warned the pilots, the plane that is taxiing in front of you could have a mechanic behind the yolk, who may not be as familiar with signs and markings as you.

According to Foster, most of the schools he's been to are not teaching signs and markings to mechanics -- they are teaching light gun signals. When is the last time the tower gave light gun signals to a tug? This trend seems trend seems to be changing for the better, with some schools spending days on signs and marking.

The good news Foster imparts is there have been "no deaths from mechanic-led incursions."

"We have already learned to drive on the airport when we drive on the street," reminded Foster. "Some of the same markings mean the same things, with a little additional definition." Solid yellow lines mean don't cross, on the highway and on the airport; dashed lines, Foster said, mean "dash across."

At night, if there are green lights along the center of the taxiway, side lights are not necessary. The theory is, if you stay on the center line lights you are clear of the runway edge, so it's a good idea to follow those center line lights. "Be vigilant," warns Foster, as pilots have had tendencies to land on taxiways.

Foster explained the two types of areas on the airport surface, movement and non-movement areas. In non-movement areas, vehicles can move without talking to air traffic control. In movement areas, ground vehicles must talk to ATC. Clearance to taxi to an area does not give you permission to taxi back to your starting point. It's a one way ticket, not round-trip.

All conversations with ATC are recorded, so "be careful what you tell us (FAA) what you said," warned Foster.

Surface incidents are what the incidents are called until the results come back from Washington DC. Once back from DC it may then be called a runway incursion. A surface incident is defined as "An event where unauthorized or unapproved movement occurs within the movement area or an occurrence in the movement area associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of flight."

If a surface incident is classified as a Runway Incursion, it is assigned a severity category. Category D means little or no risk of collision. Category C means ample time and distance to avoid collision. Category B means significant potential for airplane collision. Category A means barely-avoided collision.

Foster also told a bit of trivia as to how the distance of hold-short lines came about, and why we need to stay behind them.

The NTSB, FAA and several other alphabet groups got together. Measurements were taken of each piece of debris when airplanes crashed on the runways -- including jumbo jets, corporate jets and small props. Foster told his audience generally for the airliners, 250' was the maximum distance of debris spread, so larger airports have their hold-short lines set 250' back from the edge of the runway. At smaller airports, hold-short lines will be closer to the runway.

Signage once again mimics driving. Mandatory signs, like a stop sign are white letters on red background. Informational signs are black letters on yellow background, location signs are yellow letters on black background. Some airports use surface painted signs. These surface painted signs are used on hot spots on the airport to supplement existing signs.

Maybe considering the whole airport surface a "hot spot" is a good idea.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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