Review of FAA's Call to Action Plan for Runway Safety
On July 21, 2010, we issued our report on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Call to Action Plan for Runway Safety (the Plan). Reducing the risk of runway incursions is a critical part of FAA’s mission to oversee and enhance the margin of safety of the National Airspace System. In 2007, FAA, airline, and airport officials created the Plan after several close calls at some of the Nation’s busiest airports. We conducted this audit at the request of Senator John Rockefeller and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who asked that we review the current state of aviation safety, including a focus on runway safety issues. Our audit objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken as a result of FAA’s Call to Action Plan for improving runway safety.
We found that while the Plan has helped reduce some serious incidents, other factors may have contributed to the decrease as well. For example, there have been fewer airport operations on the Nation's runways and taxiways since 2007, which naturally correspond with fewer runway incursions. We also found that several major airports made key safety improvements before the Plan was established. Finally, FAA’s runway incursion severity rating process can be inconsistent and susceptible to bias, making the accuracy of year-to-year comparisons of serious incidents questionable.
To date, FAA and industry stakeholders have implemented several of the Plan's short-term initiatives (e.g., upgrading airport surface markings). However, if FAA is to achieve its goal of reducing runway incursions by 10 percent by FY 2013, it must follow through to set and meet milestones for the Plan’s mid- and long-term initiatives. In the past, we found that FAA’s efforts diminished as it initially met its overall goal for reducing runway incursions, only to later see a rebound in the number of incidents. We made six recommendations to ensure FAA’s Call to Action Plan initiatives are effectively implemented. FAA fully concurred with four of the six recommendations and proposed acceptable alternative courses of action for the remaining two.