Airports are getting new technologies to prevent off-runway landings

A plane prepares to take off at Denver International Airport September 7, 2016. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

New software has been installed at 43 major airports across the country that warns air traffic controllers when an incoming plane may land on a taxiway rather than a runway, the Federal Aviation Administration told Axios.

Why it matters: Landing on a taxiway—essentially roads for airplanes that connect runways to terminals—can pose a major safety hazard.

According to the FAA, there were 1,641 so-called “false surface events” between October 2016 and late last year — although the vast majority (83%) involved general aviation aircraft, not commercial aircraft.

How it works: The software, called ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction (ATAP), uses radar and other sensors to automatically detect if an aircraft is queuing to land on a taxiway rather than a runway.

In such a case, the software warns the controllers about the potential problem. You can then report the problem to the incoming pilots.

Details: ATAP has been installed at Boston Logan International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport, among others.

It has “helped prevent more than 50 landings on wrong-surface taxiways since it was first implemented at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 2018,” the FAA said in a blog post.
There have been eight ATAP alerts so far this year.

Be smart: Runways have unique visual indicators—like numbers, aiming points, and the “piano key” threshold markers—and they are lit differently than taxiways at night.

However, taxiways often run parallel to runways, and pilots — particularly those unfamiliar with their destination airport — can sometimes confuse the two.

Backstory: In recent years there have been a handful of notable runway landings by commercial pilots.

In 2006, a Continental Airlines 757 landed on a runway at Newark Liberty International Airport. In 2009, a Delta Air Lines 767 did the same at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. And in 2015, an Alaska Airlines 737 landed on a runway in Seattle-Tacoma.
None of these incidents resulted in injuries. However, taxiways are not built as landing areas for heavy jets, and they are often littered with planes about to take off.
Up to this point: In 2017, an Air Canada A320 almost landed on a taxiway at San Francisco International Airport where four other planes were waiting to take off.

Remarkable: A notable pilot who accidentally landed on a taxiway? Harrison Ford.

Yes but: None of the recent high-profile aviation safety incidents in recent months have involved landings on wrong surfaces.


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