Airport construction is widespread, in virtually all regions, due to increase in airport traffic and the need to comply with new safety requirements. While the work is under way, airports must continue to provide services despite the impact of construction on their air traffic operations. Airport construction can result in additional airport hazards, procedural changes and both operator and controller confusion, sometimes with catastrophic results. Airport construction has been a contributing factor in numerous safety events which have occurred in many different countries.
Combinations of some or all of the factors listed below have led to inadequate flight crew situational awareness and, worldwide, have contributed to safety events during airport construction. It appears that construction frequently causes operational disruptions that overload users and service providers equally.
ATIS: The ATIS broadcast at large airports often contains a significant amount of information beyond the current weather conditions, runway(s) in use and departure and arrival information. Restrictions, closures, procedural changes and airport construction data are often appended to the ATIS broadcast. Specific construction related information has sometimes become "lost" in the volume of other data and has not been noticed or taken into account by pilots. In other cases, the ATIS did not include critical construction-related information such as declared distances, closures and other pertinent information.
NOTAMs: Large airports frequently have a significant number of NOTAMs in place, especially during times of airport construction. This can lead to specific information being overlooked by the people who really need it: pilots, dispatchers and air traffic controllers.
Visual cues: Airport signage, taxiway and runway markings and other visual cues can help or hinder (when they are not compliant to ICAO Annex 14 provisions) flight crews as they attempt to distinguish closed surfaces from active ones. The lack of visual cues has contributed to incidents of aircraft operating on closed surfaces and to departures and arrivals to the wrong runway.
Controller phraseology: Controller phraseology can sometimes lead to ambiguity or erroneous conclusions about the actual condition and specifications of the surfaces impacted by construction.
Airport diagrams and charts: Publication of amended airport diagrams often lag behind the actual construction changes or closures and sometimes the changes depicted on the diagrams are out of phase with the actual construction due to project delays. When the newest airfield diagrams are published, operators generally assume that the latest surface configurations are depicted when, in fact, the diagram might not depict a true representation of the current state of construction.
Enhanced NOTAM information: Development and distribution of graphic NOTAMs that present critical NOTAM information in a human-friendly, intuitive format. The graphics are created by means of geographic information system (GIS) using digital records validated through surveys, and can be easily uploaded to electronic flight bags (EFBs), electronic tablets and other commonly used devices with internet access.
Checklists: Development and implementation of checklists to ensure consistently safe construction projects.
Improvements to airport signage and markings: preventing any misleading visual cues by providing proper marking and lighting of closed and hazardous areas according the provisions in ICAO SARPS.
Communications: precise and unambiguous radio-telephony phraseology, according to ICAO standards, that stresses the shortened runway lengths as applicable. Progressive taxi instructions could be used, particularly in complex airport layouts, to mitigate the risk of aircraft entering closed taxiway and/or to avoid coming in proximity of construction areas.
Accidents and Incidents
Listed below are safety occurrences which include runway/taxiway construction as a contributory factorfeatured in SKYbrary:
- B773, Auckland Airport New Zealand, 2007: On 22 March 2007, an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER, started its take-off on runway 05 Right at Auckland International Airport bound for Sydney. The pilots misunderstood that the runway length had been reduced during a period of runway works and started their take-off with less engine thrust and flap than were required. During the take-off they saw work vehicles in the distance on the runway and, realising something was amiss, immediately applied full engine thrust and got airborne within the available runway length and cleared the work vehicles by about 28 metres.
- B738, Manchester UK, 2003: On 16 July 2003, a Boeing 737-800, being operated by Excel Airlines on a passenger flight from Manchester to Kos began take off on Runway 06L without the flight crew being aware of work in progress at far end of the runway. The take off calculations, based on the full runway length resulted in the aircraft passing within 56 ft of a 14 ft high vehicle just after take off.
- B738, Paris CDG France, 2008: On 16 August 2008, an AMC Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 inadvertently began a night take off from an intersection on runway 27L at Paris CDG which left insufficient take off distance available before the end of the temporarily restricted runway length. It collided with and damaged obstructions related to construction works in progress on the closed section of the runway but sustained only minor damage and completed the intended flight to Luxor. The context for the flight crew error was identified as inadequate support from the Operator and inadequate airport risk assessment for operations with a reduced runway length.
- B744, Taipei Taiwan, 2000: On 31 October 2000, Boeing 747-400 being operated by Singapore Airlines on a scheduled passenger flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Los Angeles unintentionally commenced take off on a partially closed runway in reduced (but not low) visibility instead of the correct runway without ATC being aware of the error. The subsequent collision with construction equipment and resultant severe post crash fire destroyed the aircraft killing 83 of the 170 occupants, seriously injuring 39 more and causing minor injuries to 32 others. All three flight crew survived.
- B742, Montreal Canada, 2000: On 23 July 2000, a Boeing 747-200 being operated by Royal Air Maroc on a scheduled passenger flight from New York to Montreal overran the temporarily restricted available landing runway length after the aircraft failed to decelerate sufficiently during a daylight landing with normal on-ground visibility. It struck barriers at the displaced runway end before stopping 215 metres further on. Shortly before it stopped, ATC observed flames coming out of the No. 2 engine and advised the flight crew and alerted the RFFS. However, no sustained fire developed and the aircraft was undamaged except for internal damage to the No 2 engine. No emergency evacuation was deemed necessary by the aircraft commander and there were no occupant or other injuries
- What’s on your runway?, a communication by FAA Airport Construction Advisory Council (ACAC),
- AC 150/5370-2G: Operational Safety on Airports During Construction, FAA, December 2017
- The FAA Runway and Taxiway Construction website
- Runway Construction and Safety Workaround – What’s on your runway?, W. Rosenkans, AeroSafety World Magazine July 2012, FSF
- Enhanced NOTAM: The Seventh Meeting of the Asia/Pacific Aeronautical Information Services – ICAO Aeronautical Information Management Implementation Task Force (AAITF/7) – the meeting addresses the progress made by the United States in developing airport mapping data and graphics in support of digital NOTAMS of airport movement construction areas.
- ICAO Runway Excursion Risk Reduction Toolkit - Aerodrome Best Practice (2nd edition)
- Learning to enhance practices for airfield safety during construction, Gael Le Bris, Hindsight 31, December 2020
- Mind the gap...keeping aircraft operations safe during runway construction works, Gaël Le Bris, Hindsight 19 pp 58-61, July 2014