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Airfield Safety Hinges on Communication

By Christine Torres

Floor marking aids airfield safety.

Planes glide in one by one at a bustling and vastly expanding Toronto Pearson International Airport. For each one that enters this Canadian travel hub, there may be only minutes before another takes off far into the skies above carrying hundreds of eager travelers. On the ground, maintenance trucks move from one area to another just as luggage carts zip past ground control crews. Safety is a top priority for all in the aviation industry, however, there is no shortage of safety challenges. Airports aim to avoid even the slightest safety close call on a runway. Part of reducing dangers and improving clarity and awareness on airfields requires various forms of visual communication as well as other checks and balances.

Airfield geometry is a primary contributing factor for runway incursions, according to the Federal Aviation Association (FAA). As a result, visual safety implementations must be customized to fit the unique layout of each facility. For example, surface rehabilitation has been a focus for Toronto Pearson’s runways. With more than 44 million passengers in 2016, Toronto Pearson is Canada's largest airport. Work being done at this airfield is set to not only enhance passenger experience but assist with overall safety and security, the company said.

“Toronto Pearson takes the safety of all employees on airport grounds and the traveling public very seriously,” said Selma Lussenburg, a safety official at Greater Toronto Airports Authority during the airport’s safety week in October. “The strong traffic growth that Toronto Pearson is experiencing is built upon a solid foundation of safety.”

Mitigate Incursion Risks

For 2017-18, U.S. runway incursion totals by quarter are already on pace for a downward trend when compared to 2016-17 numbers. Pilots, controllers, drivers, and pedestrian workers all must work in sync to help prevent airfield incursions. The FAA recommends practices to enhance safety communication during airport surface operations that include:

  • Planning – This includes reviewing signage, markings, lighting, airport diagrams, and written checklists.
  • Situational Awareness – Be aware of surroundings before and after operations.
  • Written Taxi Instructions – Clarify instructions.
  • Communication – Phraseology can confuse if standards are not followed.
  • Exterior Lighting – These light sources, whether on or off, offer important communication signals.

“To mitigate the risk of runway incursions, flight department managers, instructors and others involved in pilot and airport ground vehicle operator training should ensure all training programs discuss runway incursion prevention, including proper communications, runway status lights and airport signage and markings,” said Mark Larsen, the senior manager of safety and flight operations at the National Business Aviation Association.

Aim for Top Flight Safety Operations

Reminder list for airfield safety.Awareness and visual communication in controlled areas help prevent unintentional security and safety incidents. There are lights, colors, and markings that have been standardized by the FAA to ensure conspicuity of vehicles operating on the ground and in the air. These patterns of communication also are found on tarmacs to signify safe wayfinding and to alert teams to potentially hazardous work areas. Sometimes, signs and labels may need to be updated or moved for optimum safety including being seen during shrouding weather and as facility operations grow. Facility and ground safety managers can address problem areas to improve workflow and maintain overall safety with signage made for a variety of industry-specific wayfinding and lean management applications. 

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