Commercial, Embedded Avionics

How the Aviation Industry is Improving Runway Safety

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | July 21, 2016
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[Avionics Today 07-21-2016] Two major industry and regulatory announcements this week will have a significant impact on the global aviation industry's efforts to prevent runway-overrun incidents at commercial and general aviation airports. Here is a recap of both announcements and how they will impact airport runway safety from both a technological and regulatory perspective. 
Runway overrun prevention depiction. Photo: Airbus.


Avionics ROPS Improvements

Runway excursions occur when an aircraft veers off or overruns an airport runway surface, and are one of the most common accidents among commercial and business aviation operators. According to the National Aerospace Laboratory of the Netherlands (NLR) Air Transport Safety Institute, the global business aviation excursion accident rate hovers around 3.6 excursions per million flights, which is 60 percent higher than the corresponding commercial aviation rate.
Airbus, Lufthansa Group and Honeywell Aerospace signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) yesterday to start working together on the development of an onboard runway safety solution. The joint work between the three companies will focus on combining the capabilities featured within the Airbus Runway Overrun Prevention System (ROPS) and Honeywell's SmartLanding technology for the Lufthansa Group’s fleet of air transport aircraft. 
The Airbus ROPS technology is certified on all in-production Airbus aircraft, including most recently for the A330 in 2015. Validation of ROPS also occurred on the A350 earlier this year. The existing ROPS technology continuously monitors whether the aircraft can safely stop on the remaining length of runway. ROPS begins monitoring runway conditions when the airborne aircraft starts descending below 500 feet. Based on real-time conditions, it continuously calculates where the aircraft can safely stop for a dry or wet runway.
According to a recent video released on the Airbus Group website, the latest version of ROPS featured on the A350 provides pilots with a runway state selector, a new feature allowing them to directly input the current state of the runway into the aircraft’s computer system. The video also gives a preview of the work that will occur under the Honeywell/Airbus/Lufthansa partnership, as it mentions "future upgrades will allow the selection of all six runway states," including dry, wet, compacted snow, slippery or wet snow, standing water or slush and ice.
In a winter 2015 report on improving runway overruns published by Eurocontrol, Logan Jones, an aircraft performance engineer at Airbus, wrote about the research the French OEM is performing to improve the existing ROPS system as well. “The current version of ROPS is certified for Dry and Wet runways only. However Airbus has already begun work on extending the system to cover contaminated runways based on the flight crews input of the reported runway state,” Jones writes in the report.  According to Jones one in four Airbus aircraft now being delivered currently has ROPS installed.
On the Honeywell side of the partnership, their SmartLanding technology is a software improvement to their existing Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), which is currently installed on 30,000 commercial airliners and business jets combined. Furthermore, during the recent Honeywell Aerospace media day event hosted at the company's Phoenix, Arizona-based headquarters, the company released additional research regarding the development of a Runway Overrun Alerting and Awareness System (ROAAS). The system is designed to provide pilots with easy to understand visual and audio alerts. These and other insights can be incorporated into the development of the runway safety solution Airbus, Honeywell and Lufthansa have announced a partnership to develop. 
Finally, on its part, Lufthansa flight crews will add to the development of the system, by contributing to the design and evaluation of the technology from the earliest stages of development.


The FAA also made an announcement this week aimed at reducing the risk of runway overrun incidents, specifically incidents caused by weather and other runway contamination factors. The FAA developed the new runway reporting methods based on the work of the Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment (TALPA) Aviation Rulemaking Committee.
In October, National Airspace System (NAS) airport operators will start using the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) to categorize runway conditions. RCAM is based on aircraft performance data supplied by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), based on different types of runway contaminants. Pilots will begin to use RCAMs received via Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) to interpret the reported runway conditions.
An example of the existing and updated runway conditions codes are presented below: 
Existing code: “FICON 2IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145” 
RCAM code: DEN RWY 17R FICON (5/5/3) 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 25 PRCT 1/8 IN DRY SN, 50 PRCT 2 IN DRY SN OBSERVED AT 1601010139. 1601010151-1601020145.
Runway safety is an ongoing issue for the FAA. In May, Teri Bristol, chief operating officer of the FAA, spoke about the agency’s work to reduce runway excursions during a speech at the Washington D.C. Aero Club. 

“Since 2008, we’ve driven down the rate of serious runway incursions by 38 percent. But we know there is still risk in the system. So last year, we held a Runway Safety Call to Action. We met with more than 100 aviation professionals including pilots, controllers, airport managers, technicians, regulators, our labor leaders and industry. Together, we crafted a total of 29 recommendations, and then we turned them into detailed corrective action plans aimed at reducing the number and severity of surface events,” said Bristol. 

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