Visual Guidance & Runway Incursion Reduction

On December 3rd, 1990 at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport, Flight 299, a Boeing 727 bound for Memphis, was cleared for departure on Runway 3C. Flight 1482, a DC-9 heading to Pittsburgh, was instructed to travel to 3C using multiple taxiways. The runway and centerline lights were turned up to the maximum setting because visibility was down to a quarter mile. But rolling fog reduced visibility in some spots to less than 800 feet. The crew of the DC-9 became disoriented and were unsure of their position. As the Boeing 727 started its takeoff roll, Flight 1482 strayed into its' path. The resulting collision triggered a fire aboard the DC-9 causing its' near total destruction and leaving eight dead and 21 injured. The pilot quite simply got lost in the fog.

Mid-air collisions and near-misses quickly come to the publics' attention because of the dramatic consequences. But collisions and near-misses on the airport surface are more likely to occur due to the number of operations and close proximity's of aircraft and/or ground vehicles. In fact, during the past 15 years, at least eight air transport surface collisions have resulted in seventeen fatalities and substantial property damage.

Any occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results in a collision with an aircraft attempting to land, take-off, or taxi is called a Runway Incursion. These incursions still present a major threat.

Since the early 1960's, the Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center has been a leader in the development of new visual guidance systems. Their research and development activities have involved runway and taxiway lighting, obstruction lighting, distance-to-go markers, painted markers and other aids. Of significance is the recent evaluation of taxiway sign effectiveness under low visibility, and the development and testing of a hold short lighting system for runway intersection identification. Other recent runway incursion prevention projects include the evaluation and development of requirements for stop bar and runway guard lighting systems as well as alternative pavement marking materials.

Send comments to: Donald W. Gallagher, AAR-411

Last Update:05/18/09