Runway excursions in aviation are critical events that involve an aircraft departing the end or side of a runway surface during takeoffs or landings.
Despite being more common than we might think, runway excursions can have serious consequences, leading to accidents, injuries, and substantial damage.
In this article, we delve into the world of runway excursions, exploring their types, causes, and prevention strategies.
Why Runway Excursions Happen
Runway excursions are a more frequent occurrence in aviation than many of us realize.
The 2021 ICAO safety report reveals that in 2020 alone, nine accidents were attributed to runway excursions, resulting in 24 fatalities, 77 serious injuries, and significant damage to aircraft, including hull losses.
The recent Korean Air incident serves as a reminder of the potential risks associated with runway excursions.
What is a Runway Excursion?
A runway excursion occurs when an aircraft departs either the end or the side of the runway surface during takeoffs or landings. There are two main types of runway excursions:
- Veer-Off: An aircraft departs the side of the runway.
- Overrun: An aircraft departs the end of the runway.
Factors Leading to Runway Excursions:
During Takeoffs: Several factors contribute to runway excursions during takeoffs, highlighting the importance of precise decision-making and performance calculations.
Common factors include:
- Incorrect Takeoff Performance: Underestimating aircraft weight may lead pilots to attempt takeoff from an intersection point, reducing runway length. This can result in the aircraft running out of runway during takeoff.
- Poor Decision-Making: Pilots attempting to stop an aircraft after the decision speed (V1) may struggle to halt the aircraft’s momentum, often due to a failure occurring beyond this point.
- Engine Failure: Engine failure at the beginning of takeoff can make rudder control ineffective, causing the aircraft to veer off the runway due to unequal thrust.
During Landings: Runway excursions during landings are influenced by various factors, not solely pilot error.
Environmental conditions and runway states play pivotal roles:
- Unstabilized Approaches: Inability to maintain a stable approach with proper speed, glide, heading, and vertical path can lead to a runway overrun.
- Excessive Speed: Landing with excessive speed requires heavy braking, which may be insufficient to prevent a runway excursion after touchdown.
- Poor Touchdown Technique: Incorrect technique, such as floating over the runway or late engine thrust idling, can result in touchdown beyond the optimal zone, reducing deceleration space.
- Tailwinds and Crosswinds: Strong tailwinds can increase the risk of a runway overrun, while improper crosswind management can cause veering off the runway.
Preventing Runway Excursions
- Accurate Performance Calculations: Pilots must correctly assess aircraft weight and performance parameters to ensure adequate runway length for takeoff.
- Stabilized Approaches: Maintaining stable approach criteria, including correct speed and alignment, is crucial to preventing runway overruns during landings.
- Crosswind Techniques: Properly aligning the aircraft to the runway centerline and gradually adjusting for crosswinds before touchdown can mitigate veer-offs.
- Environmental Awareness: Pilots should consider runway conditions and tailwind limitations to make informed decisions during takeoffs and landings.
In the realm of aviation safety, preventing runway excursions is a paramount concern that requires a comprehensive approach.
Pilots and aviation professionals must adopt stringent measures to minimize the occurrence of these critical events. Accurate performance calculations during takeoff are essential, as underestimating aircraft weight can lead to attempting takeoff from an intersection point, potentially resulting in a runway overrun.
Stabilized approaches during landings play a pivotal role in preventing overruns, ensuring that the aircraft maintains the correct speed, alignment, and vertical path.
Crosswind techniques are vital for safe landings, where aligning the aircraft with the runway centerline and gradual adjustments before touchdown can mitigate veering off. Environmental factors, such as tailwinds and runway conditions, should always be taken into account, guiding pilots’ decisions during takeoffs and landings.
By combining these strategies and fostering heightened environmental awareness, the aviation community can collaboratively work towards reducing the risk of runway excursions, safeguarding both passengers and aircraft from potential harm.
Runway excursions remain a significant concern in aviation safety, demanding continuous vigilance and training to prevent accidents and incidents.
By understanding the causes and implementing effective prevention strategies, pilots and aviation professionals can work together to reduce the occurrence of runway excursions and ensure safer skies for all.