Airservices is Australia's air navigation service provider - we provide air traffic control, aviation rescue and fire fighting and air navigation services.

Runway safety

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and Airservices consider runway safety to be one of their highest priorities as it remains one of the most serious threats to aviation safety. Airservices continues to work with the aviation industry to improve runway safety.

Runway safety includes runway incursions, runway excursions and runway confusion. Improving runway safety requires collaboration from all stakeholders, including ATC, Airports, CASA, Aircraft Operators and anyone else who operates around a runway.

Runway incursion

ICAO defines a runway incursion to be “Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take off of aircraft” (ICAO Doc 4444–PANS-ATM).

Runway incursions are an ongoing safety concern, with approximately 15-20 occurring in Australia every month and around the world resulting in fatal collisions between aircraft, and aircraft and vehicles. Reducing the number of runway incursions is paramount to improving runway safety.

Please review the documents below for more information on how you can avoid being involved in a runway incursion.

Fortunately, most runway incursions have no immediate safety consequences. However, there are regular incursions (particularly at the capital city Class D airports) that have significant potential for a collision.

Incident reports show that runway incursions do not occur randomly around the aerodrome, but are often clustered at particular locations. These are known as ‘hotspots’.

Runway incursion hotspots
Hotspot diagrams are an ICAO endorsed and internationally recognised method of providing information about aerodrome locations that have an increased risk for incursions. The diagrams provide recommendations for ensuring runway safety. Significant hot spots may be included in the aerodrome diagrams in ERSA and DAP. Airservices have developed hotspot flyers for the following airports, which can greatly help you reduce your risk of a runway incursion:

Runway Incursion Analysis

Airservices has completed analysis on runway incursions over the past four years to identify the trends and key contributing factors of runway incursion occurrences.

This analysis is available to view.

Runway excursion

A runway excursion is an event in which an aircraft veers off or overruns the runway surface during either take-off or landing. There are many factors that can cause a runway excursion including runway contamination, adverse weather conditions, mechanical failure, pilot error and unstable approaches. While Australia has had no fatal runway excursion incidents, the high number of international accidents requires a proactive approach in Australia to manage this risk.

Unstable approaches have been identified as a precursor to many accidents. Both the pilot and the air traffic controller contribute to safe and stable approaches. Airservices, in conjunction with CANSO and industry workgroups, has released a range of products to improve understanding of unstable approaches and to minimise the likelihood of runway excursions:

Runway confusion

Runway confusion occurs when pilots enter, take off or land on, the wrong runway.

This is a particular problem at aerodromes with parallel runway systems where it is relatively easy to mistake runways during the day or night. Runway confusion can also occur when a taxiway, usually parallel, is mistaken for a runway. This is most often a problem at night.

In addition to thoroughly planning your aerodrome operation and maintaining situational awareness, to avoid runway confusion:

  • pay careful attention to runways in clearances
  • always read back an assigned runway in full, for example three one left
  • if a non-precision approach, circling approach or a visual approach is being flown, take sufficient time during the approach briefing to confirm how you will positively identify the correct runway
  • whenever conditions permit, make sure you visually identify the correct runway before you enter or land on it. Signage, orientation and runway markings are all important identifying features
  • runway lighting is different to taxiway lighting and should provide the flight crew with an opportunity to distinguish one from the other.

Airside drivers

Airside drivers play an important role in runway safety at all aerodromes. There are instances of vehicles being involved in serious runway incursions; therefore drivers need to take steps to ensure they are prepared to operate safely around runways.

The Airside Drivers Guide to Runway Safety gives tips on how to:

  • avoid an airside incident or runway incursion
  • improve airside driver safety
  • speak to Air Traffic Control and understand clearances and instructions
  • maintain situational awareness.

Runway safety video

Airservices has worked with the AAA to develop a short video for airports highlighting some of the key considerations to improve runway safety.

Runway safety technology

Runway stop bars

A runway stop bar is a row of lights that an aircraft must not cross without both an air traffic control clearance and the lights being extinguished.
Many international airports use stop bars. Melbourne and Sydney airports are currently the only Australian airports to have installed stop bars.

Advanced Surface Movement Guidance Control System (A-SMGCS)

A-SMGCS is an air traffic surveillance system enabling aircraft and vehicles on the airport surface to be accurately tracked by air traffic control in all visibility conditions. To cooperate with A-SMGCS, pilots should operate their transponders in accordance with AIP Australia ENR 1.6, 7.1.9. There is no ‘Squawk Ident’ procedure associated with A-SMGCS as all tracking is automatic. If A-SMGCS is not available, ATC may stop or restrict low visibility operations.

Drivers of vehicles requiring to operate on runways and/or taxiways at A-SMGCS airports will progressively find that their vehicles are fitted with vehicle locators, often referred to as ‘VeeLo’. These are Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) transmitters that send vehicle information to the A-SMGCS system enabling the vehicle to be automatically tracked and identified on ATC tower displays. They are usually installed so that they switch on and off through the vehicle ignition switch, and will only transmit to ATC when the vehicle is on an area of ATC interest. This is often, but not necessarily, only taxiways and runways. There is no requirement for drivers to interact with the VeeLo unless it has a manual ON/OFF switch, however if it is not operating correctly drivers may be requested by ATC to have it repaired.

Local runway safety teams

Local Runway Safety Teams (LRST) are an important component of the global runway safety program. The LRST consists of local representatives addressing local runway safety issues. At some airports the LRST is embedded in another aerodrome meeting, such as the Aerodrome Users Group or Airport Safety Committee.

Airservices guide to establishing a Local Runway Safety Team

ICAO Runway Safety Team Handbook

Related links

Runway Safety iKit
Access runway safety educational products developed by our runway safety partners.

Safety Checklists
The Runway Safety Checklist allows users to assess their level of runway safety and manage runway safety risks.

Safety publications
Including Safety Bulletins which provide important advice on emerging safety issues.

Safety forum calendar
All our upcoming safety events.

Watch our safety and pilot education videos.