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Risk of collisions on runways

There continues to be a risk of aircraft colliding with vehicles or other aircraft on the ground at Canadian airports.

 Update – What has been done

  • Shortly after the release of the Watchlist, the TSB Chair presented on two occasions during the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) Annual Conference in Vancouver. The presentations highlighted the air and multi-modal Watchlist issues.
  • Following the Watchlist release, the TSB Chair met with senior officials at the Vancouver International Airport authority and with Toronto Pearson International Airport authority to discuss air Watchlist issues. The TSB is hoping to meet with other airport authorities in the near future to broaden the conversation.
  • In December 2016, TSB Board Members and the Chief Operating Officer met with senior officials from NAV CANADA at the TSB Engineering Laboratory to discuss the air and multimodal Watchlist issues.

Why this matters

At airports, aircraft and vehicles have to move between ramps, taxiways, and runways. Sometimes aircraft or vehicles mistakenly occupy an active takeoff or landing area, creating conflicts between aircraft, or between aircraft and vehicles. These conflicts are known as runway incursions.

Given the millions of takeoffs and landings each year,Footnote 1 incursions are rare, but their consequences can be catastrophic.

Runway incursions have been on the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's (TSB) Watchlist since 2010, and the TSB considers that the total number of them is still much too high. Of particular concern in Canada is the number of serious runway incursionsFootnote 2— incursions in which a collision was narrowly avoided or there was a significant potential for collision.

From 2011 to 2015, there were 2041Footnote 3 runway incursions at Canadian airports; 27 of them were serious.

Table 1. Runway incursions in Canada (Source: NAV CANADA)
Year Total runway incursions Serious runway incursions
2011 386 10
2012 355 3
2013 422 5
2014 462 3
2015 416 6

Several recent TSB investigations have found a risk of collisions on runways,Footnote 4 and the Board remains concerned that serious runway incursions will continue to occur until better defences are put in place.

The United States is testing automated systems that do not require controller or pilot input to maintain runway safety. However, a recent rise in the number of the most serious incursions at U.S. airports has prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to launch a special investigationFootnote 5 to identify some of the deeper causes and effects.

Industry and the regulator are taking helpful steps to share data and other information to improve local airport procedures, but few technological defences to alert flight crews and vehicle operators of runway conflicts have been considered or implemented in Canada. More leadership is required from Transport Canada, NAV CANADA, airport authorities, and industry to ensure they are making full use of technologies to maintain runway safety.

 Action required

This issue will remain on the Watchlist until

  • new technological defences are installed at Canada's major airports to reduce serious runway incursions; and
  • the overall number of runway incursions is reduced.

 Related information

 Previous Watchlists