A Call to Action on Runway Condition Reporting

John Gadzinski

Later this year, airport operations will enter a brand new era. For the very first time, they will be implementing procedures designed by aircraft manufacturers, pilots, performance engineers, safety professionals and other airport operators.  

Guidance for the new era can be found in the revised edition of AC 150/5200-30D, Airport Field Condition Assessments and Winter Operations Safety, a product of more than 10 years of work and development. This new advisory circular (AC) is the final component in a series of related AC revisions encompassing aircraft certification, flight standards and Notice to Airmen standards, all of which were designed to complement each other. According to the FAA, the new AC will be implemented on Oct. 1, 2016.  

JOHN GADZINSKI  
John Gadzinski is president of Four Winds Aerospace Safety as well as a 737 captain for a major airline. He holds the patent for a unique cockpit display designed to alert pilots of poor braking during landing. The display is part of a safety system being developed by Zodiac Arresting System America. He has been a featured speaker at NASA and the Flight Safety Foundation and makes regular appearances on CNN and Fox News. Currently, he is working with the FAA on a flight-testing project involving new data collection and cockpit alerting methods for runway safety.  

This groundbreaking effort has resulted in a common language that ties together aircraft manufacturers' landing and takeoff performance calculations, airports' abilities to report runway conditions and aircrews' ability to assess landing capabilities while in flight. The new AC's guidance will likely bring a dramatic change to some long-held beliefs and highlight the significant role airports have in interacting with all stakeholders in the national airspace system.  

To fully understand the context of this guidance, we must start with the events that provided the catalyst for what was to become a major industry shakeup. Two accidents, occurring 23 years apart, bookended a major dysfunction embedded in commercial aviation. The first was a DC-10 overrun in 1982 at Boston Logan that served as an impetus for a special report by the National Transportation Safety Board on winter runway hazards. The report set in motion an industry trajectory in practices that appeared, on the surface, to be moving toward much-needed improvements in the measurement, classification and reporting of runway conditions and aircraft performance. 

When an overrun occurred at Chicago Midway in December 2005, many of the assumptions that emerged after the Logan incident proved to be invalid. The case at Midway was not just another accident; it involved multiple aircraft that had the latest flight data monitoring capabilities available at the time. When information collected during the incident was analyzed, the results were staggering. 

The regulatory efforts of the previous 20 years had occurred effectively shrouded in the buffered silos of academic and professional interests. Aircraft builders concerned themselves with their own priorities, and the same was true of friction device manufacturers and airport operators. In the background, the concepts of safety evolved at a stunning pace. By 2006, the gaps between how major aviation sectors viewed the original issues from 1982 were significant. 

Pilots did not understand what the performance engineers meant by "braking action." Friction devices were not subject to the same certification criteria as jets. In addition, aircraft builders did not recognize the challenges airports faced in reporting surface contamination. In short, there was no consensus or understanding of how snow-covered runways affect commercial aircraft. 

A large group of dedicated representatives from various sectors, the Takeoff and Landing Performance Assessment Aviation Rulemaking Committee (TALPA ARC), worked for two years to address the myriad of issues at hand. Its recommendations were followed by two years of operational validation with airports and airlines. This winter, the results of those efforts will be put in place. 

For airports, the key to success will lie in standardization, communication and training. An important factor will be airports' ability to recognize that the methods described in the guidance within the new AC contain both strengths and weaknesses. Friction devices, pilot reports, contaminant observations and weather trends are all key elements. Ultimately, practical success will depend on how effectively these tools are combined so errors can be mitigated and quality information can be shared. 

The entire system will depend on how well airports interact with airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers. It will require airports to understand how those other entities operate and why they view certain issues as important. As aviation continues to grow, this new method of managing risk is a critical element in the global aviation community. 




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