A Runway Crossing Incursion is considered here to occur when an aircraft or vehicle which requires to cross one or more active runways, in order to complete an intended aerodrome ground movement, comes into actual or potential conflict with an aircraft using the same runway for landing or take off. A crossing aircraft may be one which has just landed or is en route to an intended take off on another runway. In this context, a rotary wing aircraft which is hover-taxiing in ground effect should be considered as equivalent to a fixed wing aircraft or vehicle on the ground rather than as an aircraft ‘in flight’.
In accordance to ICAO SARPs, a specific ATC Clearance is required for every runway crossed regardless of whether it is active or not. According to Doc 4444, paragraph 188.8.131.52.1.2 “When a taxi clearance contains a taxi limit beyond a runway, it shall contain an explicit clearance to cross or an instruction to hold short of that runway.”
The majority of aerodromes where more than one runway is simultaneously active chose to ensure that active runways are notified on the ATIS with any changes thereafter advised directly. This has the advantage of focusing the attention of all concerned specifically on the active runways. Whilst the EAPPRI states that “when a taxi clearance contains a taxi limit / reporting point beyond a runway, it shall contain a specific clearance to cross that runway, or an instruction to hold short, even if the runway is not in use” this procedure is not universally adopted. This particularly applies at airports where inactive runways revert to active taxiway use, which is a common practice at many busy airports.
It should be noted that a crossing aircraft may be in service or being towed or taxied out of service, noting that in the latter case, there is frequently no requirement for a pilot to be present in the flight deck since the movement is not occurring as a prelude to an intended flight, following a rejected take off or after a landing.
If an aerodrome is designed so that there is no need for aircraft or vehicles to cross an active runway, then the risk of this type of incursion is confined to discretionary use by ATC of such clearances.
Whilst there are many possible scenarios for this type of incursion, the majority appear to occur as a consequence of either:
- The inadvertent issue of conflicting clearances to a crossing aircraft or vehicle and another aircraft using the same runway for take off or landing
- The inadvertent failure of an aircraft or vehicle to stop at the limit of its taxi clearance or otherwise correctly follow it
In the case of runway crossing incursions at aerodromes with more than one active runway in simultaneous use, there appears to be a greater probability of such incursions involving aircraft taxiing in after landing than those taxiing out for take off - although there does not seem to be any conclusive data to support such a proposition. Whilst there is no common practice on the designation of dedicated landing and take off runways in relation to terminal facilities which are located in a position where either aircraft taxing in or those taxiing out must cross an active runway, a preference for giving taxiing-in aircraft a route without a runway crossing is frequently favoured.
Controllers should note that the height of the Visual Control Room (TWR) may mean that just because runway occupancy cannot be visually monitored from it because of poor visibility, this does not mean that vehicle and aircraft movements are taking place in forward visibility which is sufficiently low to demand the enhanced vigilance which can be expected in such conditions. In this context, it should be noted that whilst available data tends to indicate that low visibility alone is not a significant contributory factor in the majority of runway incursions, probably because of the enhanced vigilance thereby invited, controllers should recognise that Low Visibility Procedures (LVP) status is often not equivalent to low surface visibility and should thus not automatically be associated with such enhanced vigilance.
When such circumstances arise and an incursion begins, adequate situational awareness on the part of at least one of the three parties involved (ATC, the aircraft landing/taking off and aircraft or vehicle crossing) will have already been lost. However, in most cases, the relatively slow speed of the crossing aircraft or vehicle should provide a reasonable chance that the seriousness of the resultant incursion can be contained if situational awareness of one or more of the other parties is properly maintained.
Situational awareness is fundamental to both the prevention of runway crossing incursions and the mitigation of their effects once an incursion has begun. It is widely recognised that the use of more than one language for ATC communications, in respect of runway occupancy, is not in line with the best practice for risk management of runway crossing incursions.
It has often been found that a human error made by any party which creates the conditions for a runway crossing incursion involves either distraction or complacency. The former requires that a sterile environment should be maintained in aircraft flight decks and vehicle cabs and invites, inter alia, an assessment of the need for the wearing of headsets by controllers at all times. It is important to recognise that familiarity with one’s task as a controller (and in the case of aircraft or airside vehicles, one’s own location) should not lead to a reduced focus on any aspect of aircraft ground movement where active runway crossing is routinely necessary.
Prevention - Aerodrome Design and Use
The following risk mitigations are considered best practice:
- Whenever possible, the crossing of active runways should be rendered unnecessary by design. This means that where it is going to be routinely necessary to cross the extended centreline of a runway, a perimeter taxiway should be available which is sufficiently distant from the runway threshold for landing and take off to continue whilst crossing is occurring.
- When the above is not possible, the aerodrome layout should be such that all crossings are made at 90° to the active runway centreline. Crossing traffic on an active runway should never by cleared to cross after entry on a reverse-direction RET since this precludes any visual check for potential runway actual or imminent occupation before entering to cross.
- Aerodromes which have experienced serious runway incursion events have often chosen to modify the detail alignment of those taxiways which may be used as runway crossing entry points by introducing a significant change of direction shortly before a runway intersection occurs.
- A runway longitudinal profile which has one or both thresholds significantly below the elevation of the highest part of the runway can prevent effective checking that a runway is clear before crossing commences and should be regarded as a hazard to be addressed in the long term and recognised until it is so addressed.
- Ground markings, signage and lighting which ensure that both vehicles and taxiing aircraft can readily and unambiguously determine their position - by day or by night and in any forward visibility in which they are permitted to operate - are essential. The provision of H24 controllable stop bars at all holding points where crossings of active runways may routinely occur is highly recommended as is the corresponding provision of H24 taxiway and lead-on lighting at all designated runway crossing points. Where aerodrome design requires the frequent crossing of active runways, consideration should be given to the feasibility and potential risk mitigation provided by Runway Status Lights (RWSL) and the associated FAROS system.
- Airside Driving Permits should only be issued following training which emphasises the importance of continuous situational awareness. This should include a sufficient understanding of ATC communications not only to communicate appropriately and act in strict accordance with instructions but to allow passive monitoring of radio traffic to enhance visual situational awareness. Such Permits should be allowed to remain valid only subject to a formally specified programme of recurrent training.
Prevention - Aircraft and Vehicle Operators
The following risk mitigations are considered best practice:
- The maintenance of a sterile environment should be mandated in both aircraft flight decks and vehicle cabs during ground manoeuvring in order to minimise the chances of distraction.
- Sensible maximum ground speeds should be mandated and enforced by whatever means are available, including in the case of aircraft the use of the OFDM process and in the case of vehicles the use of driver identity recording and random checks of vehicle recorders where fitted.
- Current aerodrome charts at a scale which is sufficient to show all permitted taxiways/runways and all intermediate and runway access holding points and their designations must be available to pilots and drivers in a form that facilitates ready reference to them.
- Where vehicles are likely to have to cross active runways whilst airside, consideration should be given to requiring two people to be present in the driving cab where seating is available in order to add an element of monitoring of the driver’s actions. To be effective, this would require the second occupant to have completed a similar course to a permit holding driver without necessarily being able to drive.
- Where aircraft operators permit their out-of-service aircraft to be towed or to be taxied under their own power without at least one pilot being present on the flight deck, they should satisfy themselves not only that adequate training has been given to approved persons, but that a system of recurrent training is in place.
Prevention - Flight Crew/Vehicle Drivers
Three factors are considered paramount in avoiding involvement in a runway crossing incursion:
- the maintenance of visual situational awareness in respect of ground position.
- the careful monitoring of other traffic in the vicinity by active visual monitoring supported, insofar as primary tasks permit, by passive monitoring of ATC communications with relevant traffic.
- the careful receipt of, read back of and adherence to all ATC clearances supported by active monitoring of the pilot or driver in control by other qualified persons present in the flight deck or vehicle cab respectively.
In addition, flight crew should:
- note that when instructed to follow other traffic, this never automatically includes a clearance to enter or cross an active runway - each aircraft requires a specific clearance.
- aim to complete check list activity before crossing an active runway and if this is not possible suspend such activity until a runway crossing is complete.
- avoid stopping on a runway when crossing it unless they are specifically instructed to do so.
- expect communication with ATC shortly after receiving a "Line up and wait" clearance (usually within 90 seconds). If no further clearance is received, informing the controller that the aircraft has lined up should be considered.
Even with the assiduous application of all these good practices, the final defence against a runway collision, when approaching to or crossing an active runway, is an effective visual check in the direction from which any aircraft in the process of landing or taking off would come. For aircraft, the use of the TCAS display to check for traffic on or approaching the runway about to be entered is considered good practice.
If, for any reason, a risk of collision is perceived once in the process of crossing an active runway, it is important that the decision to stop or continue is made on the basis of an assessment of the visible facts. These may not necessarily accord with any instructions from the control tower due to their remoteness from the point of risk.
Any decision that the best course of action for an aircraft accelerating for take off is to continue, on the basis that over flight of a crossing aircraft or vehicle will be possible, will frequently be made in conjunction with an increase to maximum rated take off thrust from the reduced thrust setting usually used.
Prevention – ANSPs
A number of complimentary measures could help reduce runway crossing incursions:
- The issue of a clearance to cross an active runway should always be given directly by the runway controller on the single frequency used for all clearances to access a particular active runway for any purpose.
- Only one language should be in use for all communications on the frequency designated for use by a runway controller.
- Where OJT is in progress, procedures should require that all active runway crossing clearances are specifically monitored by the qualified training controller.
- Unambiguous procedures to cover any malfunction of stop bar lighting at runway holding points should be in place.
- Consideration should be given to the most appropriate way(s) to ensure that the prevailing use of controllable stop bar lighting in support of taxi clearances is effectively communicated to aircraft using an aerodrome.
- If runway crossing is permitted when alternative but less efficient alternatives exist, the circumstances when it is permitted and the process to be followed should be established.
- Arrangements for the display to runway controllers of active runway occupancy by aircraft or vehicles should include runway crossing clearances.
- All holding points or positions at which runway crossing is permitted should have an unrestricted line of sight from the runway control position or equivalent CCTV coverage.
- Exceptional vigilance is required if vehicles or aircraft on one runway are instructed to hold clear of an intersecting runway to await crossing clearance if, as is likely, there are no holding point markings or associated lighting to indicate a specific holding position.
- Systems which alert controllers to potential or actual runway incursions should incorporate an audio alert as well as a visual representation of the location and opposing traffic.
Prevention - Controllers
Good practices for runway controllers which could reduce the risk of runway crossing incursions include:
- Any active runway crossing clearance should be regarded as of equivalent significance to a take off or landing clearance
- Where controllable lit stop bars are not installed at every designated holding point, aircraft taxi clearance limits prior to the expected crossing of an active runway should always correspond to positions where this facility exists
- If a frequency change is not required to cross an active runway, the clearance to do so should not be given any earlier than it would be if such a change was required
- The issue of crossing clearances which are likely to result in late landing clearances should be avoided
- Where circumstances permit, runway crossing clearances should be given as near to either end of a runway as possible and, where this is not possible, full length take offs should be preferred
- In the event that it is realised by a pilot or driver that an incursion has occurred and that a collision has become a possibility, it is essential that any instruction to either party to stop or to continue is made promptly and appropriately
- All active runway crossing clearances should be issued with a requirement to report clear of the runway after crossing and this confirmation should be obtained before any use of the same runway for take off or landing is authorised
- A handover briefing to facilitate a change of runway controller should seek to avoid the interval between the issue of any runway crossing clearance and the subsequent “runway vacated” call
- Whenever possible, runway crossing clearances should minimise the time which an aircraft or vehicle is on the active runway
- Aircraft under tow are best positioned prior to crossing as close as possible to a suitable exit taxiway
- The use of standard taxi routes for runway crossing is strongly advised.
- When the time is critical, controllers should consider informing the crossing aircraft/vehicle of traffic which will subsequently land or take off on the same runway
- Since pilots require a general overview of their expected taxi routing, it may be appropriate in the case of complex detail to provide such an overview first and then divide the detail of the message into segments, placing the clearances and instructions in sequential order. This should help reduce the chances of pilot misunderstanding, while still providing the complete picture.
Mitigating the consequences of a crossing incursion
The two principal ways in which the consequences of an incursion can be mitigated are the recognition of an imminent risk of conflict by at least one of the pilots or drivers involved or by the designated runway controller. In the case of pilots and drivers, it is important that they are aware of the direction of use of any active runway they are about to cross so that their pre-entry check for actual or potential conflict is made in the appropriate direction.
In either case, this recognition may be supported or replaced by activation of a ground or airborne safety net which may communicate situational awareness directly to a driver or pilot or provide it through controller alerting which then may prompt the issue of risk reduction instructions. Early ground safety nets were mainly based on A-SMGCS level 2 but this data is now increasingly being supplemented by fixed position sensors and by automatic vehicle/aircraft position transmission. In the USA, and now for the first time in Europe at Paris CDG (inner northern runway, direct pilot alerting through the RWSL system is improving the mitigation of both any hazardous consequences of an incursion and the chances of preventing one altogether. In the USA, the latest RWSL installations are being supplemented by the FAROS system which annunciates an occupied runway to aircraft on approach to land.
Some Serious Incident Examples
On 3 June 2022, an Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Service utility vehicle inadvertently entered an active runway at night when intending to drive along its parallel taxiway after becoming confused about their routing. On reaching the clearly identified runway holding point but requesting permission to access the intended taxiway, the controller turned off the illuminated stop bar and the vehicle was briefly driven onto the runway before the driver realised their error and made a U turn to exit. The incursion activated visual and aural warnings but these were both inexplicably missed by the controller and their supervisor.
On 30 November 2019, as an Airbus A320 was about to touchdown in normal night visibility at Toyko Haneda, a runway maintenance contractor’s small car began to cross the same runway without obtaining the required clearance as the driver believed this was not necessary. Separation reduced to 1,417 metres shortly before the A320 began to clear the 3,000 metre runway. Planning for overnight work on the intersecting runway was found to have been inadequate and multiple related training requirements and procedures were enhanced by both the aviation regulator and the airport operator. The incursion was assessed as ICAO Category ‘C’.
On 8 August 2019, an Embraer 190 crew taking off from Comodoro Rivadavia in accordance with their clearance saw a vehicle crossing the runway ahead but based upon its distance away and speed judged that continued takeoff was safe and this then occurred. The vehicle was not authorised to cross the runway. The conflict risk was assessed as heightened by ATC use of a discrete frequency for communications with airside vehicles thereby reducing the situational awareness of both pilots and vehicle drivers. It was also noted that absence of vehicle read backs to ATC instructions was common and went unchallenged.
On 11 October 2016, an Airbus A320 crew accelerating for takeoff and already at high speed observed an Airbus A330-300 beginning to cross the runway ahead. Unsure of whether they would be able to reject the takeoff and stop before reaching it, an early rotation was commenced. The A330 continued to cross and the A320 passed over its vertical stabiliser with what was subsequently calculated as a 19 metre clearance. The Investigation found that the same runway controller had initially cleared the just-landed A330 to cross the runway but forgot this and then cleared the A320 to take off.
On 22 September 2017, a Boeing 747-400F taxiing in after landing requested and received further taxi instructions from GND on reaching its clearance limit when the controller assumed it had already crossed the active runway ahead. An Airbus A330-300 crew beginning takeoff saw the 747 beginning to cross, rejected the takeoff and stopped well clear of the other aircraft. The Investigation found that the GND controller had failed to check which side of the runway the 747 was on before issuing his clearance and noted that the controllable red stop bar system was not active or required to be.
On 9 August 2019, a Bombardier CRJ-200LR about to depart Toronto which had read back and actioned a clearance to line up on the departure runway then began its takeoff without clearance and only commenced a high speed rejected takeoff when a Boeing 777-300 came into view crossing the runway ahead. A high speed rejected takeoff was completed from a maximum speed of around 100 knots. The Investigation concluded that an increased crew workload, an expectation that a takeoff clearance would be received without delay and misinterpretation of the line up instructions led to the premature initiation of a takeoff.
On 17 March 2017, a Bombardier CRJ 700 which had just landed on runway 35R at Lyon Saint-Exupéry was about to cross runway 35L as cleared when its crew saw the departing Airbus A319 on runway 35L accelerating towards their intended crossing position and braked to a stop before entering the runway. The Investigation found that both aircraft had complied with all instructions issued by the TWR controller and concluded that safety management processes at the airport were not commensurate with the incursion risk involved and had been unchanged since an almost identical incident a year previously.
On 28 April 2018, a Boeing 737-800 exited the landing runway at Perth and without clearance crossed a lit red stop bar protecting the other active runway as another 737 was accelerating for takeoff. This aircraft was instructed to stop due to a runway incursion ahead and passed 15 metres clear of the incursion aircraft which by then had also stopped. The Investigation concluded that, after failing to refer to the aerodrome chart, the Captain had mixed up two landing runway exits of which only one involved subsequently crossing the other active runway and decided the stop bar was inapplicable.
On 21 April 2006, a Boeing 737-800 cleared to take off from Brisbane began to do so whilst a vehicle was crossing the same runway in accordance with an ATC clearance issued on a different frequency. The aircraft crew saw the vehicle as they accelerated but decided that it would be clear by the time they reached its position. The vehicle driver reported that he was still within the runway strip when the aircraft passed. Since the occurrence, the adoption at Brisbane of the ICAO recommended procedure of using one frequency for all runway occupancy is being “actively considered”.
On 26 May 2007, a Republic Airlines Embraer 170 taking off from runway 01L at San Francisco nearly collided with an aircraft which had just landed on intersecting runway 28R and come to a stop at the intersection. Both aircraft were operating in accordance with instructions to take off and land respectively issued by the same TWR controller. After an AMASS conflict alert issued 15 seconds in advance of the subsequent conflict, the controller involved instructed the aircraft on landing roll to hold ,
On 27 May 2012, an Airbus A320 departing Barcelona was cleared by GND to taxi across an active runway on which a Boeing 737-800 was about to land. Whilst still moving but before entering the runway, the A320 crew, aware of the aircraft on approach, queried their crossing clearance but the instruction to stop was given too late to stop before crossing the unlit stop bar. The 737 was instructed to go around and there was no actual risk of collision. The Investigation attributed the controller error to lack of familiarisation with the routine runway configuration change in progress.
On 16 August 2007, a Westjet Boeing 737-700 which had just landed began to cross a runway in normal daylight visibility from which an Airbus A320 was taking off because the crew had received a clearance to do so after an ambiguous position report given following a non-instructed frequency change. When the other aircraft was seen, the 737 was stopped partly on the runway and the A320 passed close by at high speed with an 11 metre clearance. The AMASS activated, but not until it was too late to inform a useful controller response.
On 16 August 2001, a Continental Boeing 737-500 which had just landed on runway 18R at Dallas-Fort-Worth crossed runway 18L in daylight in front of a Delta Boeing 737-300 which had originally been believed to be holding position but was then seen to be taking off from the same runway. The Delta aircraft rotated early and sharply to overfly the crossing aircraft and suffered a tail strike in doing so. Clearance was estimated to have been about 100 feet. Both aircraft were being operated in accordance with valid ATC clearances issued by the same controller.
On 27 July 2010, a South African Airways Boeing 737-800 on take from Runway 21R was instructed to reject that take off when already at high speed because a Boeing 737-400 was crossing the same runway ahead. The rejected take off was successful. The Investigation found that both aircraft had been operated in accordance with clearances issued by the responsible position in TWR ATC where OJT was in progress.
On 1 December 2011 a Southwest Boeing 737-700 was cleared to taxi in after landing on a route which included crossing another active runway before contacting GND and the controller who had issued that clearance then inadvertently issued a take off clearance to a Gama Charters Learjet 45 for the runway to be crossed. One of the 737 pilots saw the approaching Learjet and warned the PF to stop as the runway crossing was about to begin. The departing aircraft then overflew the stationary 737 by 62 feet after rotating shortly before the crossing point without seeing it.