Pilot Training | Runway Incursion Safety Reminders 


Pilot Training May Need More Emphasis on Runway Incursion 

Runway incursions are becoming more frequent, increasing the risk of aviation disasters. Do professional pilots truly misunderstand basic ATC instructions, even with their advanced experience? Should pilot training include a lesson on the difference between being cleared for takeoff and lining up and waiting? Or is there another factor to blame for the rise in runaway incursions and close calls? 

It’s hard to believe that the current “line Up and wait” command or the previous instruction to “taxi into position and hold” can be easily mistaken for being “cleared for takeoff.” There must be something more dangerous happening. 

We often have our cell phones within reach, even when driving or flying a plane. I’ve personally witnessed and heard stories of pilots using their phones for personal reasons in the cockpit’s sterile environment. This behavior will have consequences one day. 

Distractions can come in less obvious forms as well. Did you have an argument with your partner before your flight? Does someone in your family have a life-threatening illness? Are you worried about paying your bills this month? It doesn’t take much for your mind to wander, even during critical moments of a flight.  

What is a Runway Incursion? 

A runway incursion is an event where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle, or person is on the runway. This presents a significant safety risk as it can lead to accidents, particularly during takeoff and landing when speeds are high and reaction times are short. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), runway incursions are a leading cause of aviation accidents. 

Factors that Contribute to Runway Incursions 

  • Communication: Miscommunication or misunderstanding between Air Traffic Control (ATC) and pilots can lead to runway incursions. 
  • Taxi Route: Complex taxi routes or unfamiliarity with the airport layout can also contribute to runway incursions. 
  • Traffic Flow: High traffic density can increase the likelihood of incursions due to the increased complexity of ground operations. 

Precautionary Measures 

  • Clear Communication: Always maintain clear and concise communication with ATC. Repeat back instructions to verify understanding. 
  • Taxi Route Familiarization: Prior to taxiing, study the airport diagram and understand your taxi route. 
  • Monitor Ground Movements: Keep a constant eye on your surroundings, including other aircraft and ground vehicles. 
  • Maintain a Sharp Lookout: Especially during takeoff and landing, keep a sharp lookout for any unexpected objects or movements on the runway. 

Runway Incursion Examples 

In Boston, a Learjet and a Jet Blue Airbus came within 30 feet of each other due to a runway incursion. Despite being cleared to line up and wait, the Learjet started its takeoff roll. When asked why, the pilot claimed not feeling well with a stuffy nose. I hope distractions like that don’t affect professional pilots, but that’s what he said. 

Another incident occurred in Houston last October when a Hawker and Citation Mustang collided. The pilots of the Hawker were cleared to line up and wait but proceeded with takeoff despite urgent orders from controllers to abort. Although it seems bizarre that they didn’t hear the warnings, there were other distractions inside the Hawker’s cockpit, such as missing V speeds on the screens, runway bias alerts, and pitch trim alerts. These issues needed to be resolved before takeoff. 

Regardless of the reason for increasing runway incursion problems, this issue must be addressed throughout all stages of pilot training. From new student pilots to experienced ATPs returning to simulators, everyone must understand the dangers of distractions and the importance of being certain about ATC clearances before moving the aircraft. 

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