For many pilots, the idea of a runway incursion (entering a runway when you shouldn't) or excursion (leaving a runway surface when you shouldn't) is a tragic event that happens to somebody else. We are not at threat, because we are better than that! Yet there are too many pilots out there that find themselves as one of those somebodies. There are solutions, but those solutions are only proven successful when nothing happens. And that is a recipe for complacency.

— James Albright

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Updated:

2024-05-01

I've had one runway incursion and have come close to one excursion. The first was caught by the tower and was embarrassing. The second seemed more dramatic than it was but probably started me on a path to a full head of gray hair. I'll get into both, briefly cover a few more significant examples, and then provide a few recognized avoidance procedures and add a few techniques of my own.

1 — Runway incursion: a personal tale

2 — Runway incursions: a few examples of how badly things can go

3 — Runway incursions: recognized avoidance procedures

4 — Runway incursions: a few avoidance techniques

5 — Runway excursion (almost?): a personal tale

6 — Runway excursions: a few examples of how badly things can go

7 — Runway excursions: recognized avoidance procedures

8 — Runway excursions: a few avoidance techniques

9 — One last story: an exercise in self-critique

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1

Runway incursion: a personal tale

There I was . . .

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Back in 2003, I was sitting in the right seat of a Challenger 604 with my boss in the left seat. It was my first trip with the new company. The boss had a few decades experience in older Challengers and a lot of experience flying out of San Francisco International Airport (KSFO), California. I had more experience in the new Challenger but less flying out of KSFO. This was years before the airport added taxiways north of the runways to allow business jets to get to Runways 1L and 1R without having to cross the Runways 28L and 28R. The normal taxi instruction from the FBO (General Aviation on the chart) to Runway 1L was to cross the 28L and 28R at K, D, or E, left on B and then M or A to 1L or 1R. I knew that much.

I was busy with the checklist when the boss got our taxi clearance to speed things up and he started moving just as I finished the engine start checklist and had to race to begin the taxi checklist. I didn't hear the taxi clearance but the boss assured me we got it. "What was it?" I asked. "Taxi to One Right via Charlie, Lima." This was in the morning and the winds were putting everyone on Runway 1L or 1R. "That can't be right," I said. "It is," he said.

He kept going. "Let me verify," I said. "I know what I heard," he said. "There are aircraft landing and taking off on one!" I said. "I know what I'm doing," he said. But I noticed he was slowing down to look down the runway. There were no aircraft on the runway. Our nose was beyond Taxiway Echo and the next crossing pavement was Runway 1L.

"Challenger 604 Bravo, stop immediately!" Ground control barked at us.

I was able to beg forgiveness, accepted a 180 turn and instructions to hold our position on Echo short of the runway, "until we decide what to do with you."

"I guess we screwed up," the boss said, emphasizing the "we" word.

"We did," I agreed. Fortunately, there was no traffic conflict and tower agreed to let us proceed with nothing more than a verbal rebuke on frequency.

Lessons learned

I am ashamed to say I knew each of the lessons learned here before the incident but allowed the fact I was the new guy with the new boss to turn my normally assertive nature into meekness. The lion becomes a lamb.

  • Pilots should familiarize themselves with the airfield diagram and hypothesize the most logical taxi routes, so as to be able to question routes that don't make intuitive sense.
  • Both pilots need to hear all clearances which involve aircraft movement.
  • When either pilot is in doubt, stop before crossing any taxiway or runway and ask the controlling agency.
  • Both pilots should look upon taxiing as a team sport, it is unacceptable for one pilot to bully the other into shutting up and for one pilot to sit meekly quiet when there is any doubt.

2

Runway incursions: a few examples of how badly things can go

The worst of the worst

On March 27, 1977, a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 collided with a Pan American World Airways Boeing 747 on the runway at Tenerife-Los Rodos International Airport, Spain. Both aircraft were cleared to backtrack on Runway 12 for takeoff on Runway 30, with the Pan Am flight told to exit on a midfield taxiway to permit the KLM's takeoff. The airport was shrouded in fog, so neither aircraft could see the other.

KLM reported ready for takeoff and was given instructions for a Papa beacon departure. The KLM crew repeated the instructions and added "We are now at takeoff". The brakes were released and KLM 4805 started the takeoff roll. Tenerife tower, knowing that Pan Am was still taxiing down the runway replied "OK ...... Stand by for takeoff, I will call you." This message coincided with the Pan Am crew's transmission "No ... uh we're still taxiing down the runway, the Clipper 1736". These communications caused a shrill noise in the KLM cockpit, lasting approx. 3.74 seconds. Tenerife tower replied: "Papa Alpha 1736 report runway clear.", whereupon the Pan Am crew replied: "OK, will report when we're clear". This caused some concerns with the KLM flight engineer asking the captain: "Is he not clear then?" After repeating his question the captain answers emphatically: "Oh, yes".

A number of second before impact the KLM crew saw the Pan Am Boeing still taxiing down the runway. The crew tried to climb away and became airborne after a 65 feet tail drag in an excessive rotation. The Pan Am crew immediately turned the aircraft to the left and applied full power. The KLM aircraft was airborne, but the fuselage skidded over the Pan Am's aft fuselage, destroying it and shearing off the tail. The KLM aircraft flew on and crashed out of control 150 m further on, sliding another 300 m bursting into flames.

All 248 occupants in the KLM flight and 335 of 396 occupants in the Pan Am flight were killed.

Source: https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19770327-1.

A few close calls in 2023

On January 13, 2023, about 2044 local time, American Airlines (AA) flight 106, a Boeing 777-200, crossed runway 4L, without air traffic control (ATC) clearance, at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Queens, New York causing Delta Air Lines (DAL) flight 1943, a Boeing 737-900ER, to abort its takeoff on runway 4L. Of the 6 crew and 153 passengers on DAL 1943, and 12 crew and 137 passengers on AA106, there were no injuries. AA 106 was instructed to taxi from the ramp to Runway 4L via taxiway B and hold short of taxiway K. As the aircraft left the ramp, the ground controller cleared AA 106 to cross runway 31L at taxiway K. Upon reaching the Taxiway B/Taxiway K intersection, AA 106 continued straight to taxiway J crossing runway 4L without ATC clearance. At the time AA106 entered on runway 4L at taxiway J, DAL 1943 had begun its takeoff roll increasing speed through 80 knots, and was abeam taxiway K3, about 2700 feet from the taxiway J intersection. The ASDE-X alerted the JFK ATC tower to the conflict and the tower controller issued a takeoff cancellation to DAL 1943. The DAL 1943 crew aborted takeoff at about 100 knots and came to stop about 500 feet short of taxiway J. The closest point between the two aircraft was about 1400 feet and occurred as DAL 1943 decelerated past taxiway K4 and AA106 exited the runway at taxiway J.

Source: https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/305868

On February 4, 2023, at about 0640 central standard time (CST), Federal Express (FedEx) flight 1432 (FDX1432), a Boeing 767-32LF, and Southwest Airlines flight 708 (SWA708) a Boeing 737-79P were involved in a runway incursion with overflight that resulted in a loss of separation at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), Austin, Texas. There were no injuries reported to the 128 passengers and crew on board the SWA airplane or to the 3 crew members on board the FedEx airplane.

At 0639:32, the pilots of FDX1432 queried the local controller to confirm that they were cleared to land on runway 18L. According to the captain of FDX1432, he asked for confirmation because he was concerned about the Southwest traffic. The controller confirmed FDX1432 was cleared to land and advised them of traffic (SWA708) departing runway 18L ahead of him.

At 0640:12, with FDX1432 on an approximate 0.7-mile final, the local controller queried SWA708 to confirm they were on the roll, to which the captain of SWA708 replied “rolling now.” According to the captain of FDX1432, he noted that at an altitude of about 150 feet, the FO called go-around after visually seeing SWA708 at approximately 1,000 feet to 1,500 feet from the approach end of the runway. At 0640:34 one of the FDX1432 crew broadcasted “Southwest abort” and then at 0640:37 broadcasted that “FedEx is on the go.” According to the SWA708 pilot narratives, the captain noted that somewhere between the speeds of 80 KIAS and V1, he and the first officer heard FedEx call for a go-around.

Source: https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/307464

On February 27, 2023, a JetBlue Airways Embraer ERJ-190AR (N179JB), and a Hop-A-Jet Learjet 60 (N280LJ) were involved in a runway incursion incident at Boston-Logan International Airport, MA (BOS). The ERJ-190 was on final approach to runway 04R and had been cleared to land. The Boston tower controller had instructed the pilot of the Learjet to line up and wait on runway 9 for departure. Both runways intersect.

The Learjet's flight crew read back the controller’s instructions to line up and wait, however they began the takeoff-roll instead. The airport surface detection equipment, model X (ASDE-X) alerted, and the controller issued go-around instructions to B6206. The JetBlue flight crew initiated a go-around while over runway 04R, prior to reaching the intersection with runway 09. The ERJ-190 landed safely 12 minutes later. The Learjet continued to the destination, Fort Lauderdale, FL (FXE). The closest estimated position was 331 feet lateral. The FAA rated the incident a Category A runway incursion.

Source: https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/308822.

More fatalities in 2024

A Japan Coast Guard DHC-8 taxied onto Tokyo-Haneda Airport's Runway 34R via taxiway C5 as Japan Airlines JL516 was on final approach. After touching down, the A350 struck the DHC-8. The nose section of the A350 suffered severe damage. The Airbus slid over the runway for about 1700 meters, until it veered to the right, coming to stop next to the runway just before the intersection with C11, and a fire erupted in both aircraft.

All occupants of the A350 evacuated safely via L1, R1 and L4 doors. One passenger suffered injury of crack(s) in rib(s), another one a bruise, the third people a sprain. 12 others also sent to hospital due to feeling unwell. Another passenger's bone bruise on shin bone was reported a month later. The captain of the DHC-8 Japan Coast Guard aircraft also survived with severe burn injuries. The remaining crew of five were killed in the accident.

Communications released by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism indicate that JL516 had been cleared to land on runway 34R. JA722A had been instructed to hold short on taxiway C5. This instruction was read back correctly, however, the survived captain of DHC-8 asserted just after the accident that he had been cleared for takeoff, which is contrary to the ATC record.

Source: https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/349537.


3

Runway incursions: recognized avoidance procedures

It is important to give the same attention to operating on the surface as in other phases of flight. Proper planning can prevent runway incursions and the possibility of a ground collision. A pilot should always be aware of the aircraft’s position on the surface at all times and be aware of other aircraft and vehicle operations on the airport. At times, towered airports can be busy and taxi instructions complex. In this situation, it may be advisable to write down taxi instructions. The following are some practices to help prevent a runway incursion:

  • Read back all runway crossing and/or hold instructions.
  • Review airport layouts as part of preflight planning, before descending to land and while taxiing, as needed.
  • Know airport signage.
  • Review NOTAMs for information on runway/taxiway closures and construction areas.
  • Request progressive taxi instructions from ATC when unsure of the taxi route.
  • Check for traffic before crossing any runway hold line and before entering a taxiway.
  • Turn on aircraft lights and the rotating beacon or strobe lights while taxiing.
  • When landing, clear the active runway as soon as possible, then wait for taxi instructions before further movement.
  • Study and use proper phraseology in order to understand and respond to ground control instructions.
  • Write down complex taxi instructions at unfamiliar airports.

Source: Pilots Handbook of Aviation Knowledge, p. 14-30

When ATC issues a “hold short” clearance, you are expected to taxi up to, but not cross any part of the runway holding marking. At a towered airport, runway hold markings should never be crossed without explicit ATC instructions. Do not enter a runway at a towered airport unless instructions are given from ATC to cross, takeoff from, or “line up and wait” on that specific runway.

ATC is required to obtain a read-back from the pilot of all runway “hold short” instructions. Therefore, you must read back the entire clearance and “hold short” instruction, to include runway identifier and your call sign.

Source: Pilots Handbook of Aviation Knowledge, p. 14-32

As of June 30, 2010, ATC is required to issue explicit instructions to “cross” or “hold short” of each runway. Instructions to “cross” a runway are normally issued one at a time, and an aircraft must have crossed the previous runway before another runway crossing is issued. Exceptions may apply for closely spaced runways that have less than 1,000 feet between centerlines.

Source: Pilots Handbook of Aviation Knowledge, p 14-33.


4

Runway incursions: a few avoidance techniques

A common factor in many runway incursions in crews with more than one pilot is that both pilots were not "in the loop" or one pilot's force of personality overwhelmed the other's. A good way to resolve this is to require a unanimous vote from both pilots whenever a new taxiway, runway, or ramp is crossed.

Situational awareness via the radio

I've found it helpful at foreign airports to listen in on the ground control frequency at least thirty minutes before departure time to get a feel for the local pronunciation, pacing, and taxi instructions. I do the same at very busy U.S. airports. Most of my operations manuals over the years required we pilots be in the seat and ready at least 30 minutes early. That is a great opportunity to increase your ground situational awareness.

Situational awareness via ADS-B In

If you have ADS-B In, you have a great tool for accurately scanning for traffic down the length of a runway and on final approach prior to entering a runway. On some aircraft you will have to turn this capability on if it doesn't default to on.

Prebrief before engine start

A standard practice for many flight crews is to brief the departure while taxiing and that has at least three problems. First, it is a distraction from safely operating the aircraft on the ground. Second, it robs you of listening time to the ground frequency where another's aircraft's instructions or requests can impact you. Third, it is too late to increase your situational awareness of the taxi route itself. I recommend you complete your takeoff and departure briefings just prior to engine start and that you include your anticipated taxi route in that briefing. Brief only changes to the plan once you've started moving.

Pointing and calling

As you are taxiing, the pilot doing the taxi should physically point to all taxiway and runway signs and announce his or her intentions with enough time for the other pilot to agree or disagree. For example:

"I see the Taxiway Bravo," (while pointing to the Taxiway Bravo sign), "I will be making a right turn."

"Agreed." (After crosschecking the taxi instructions and confirming the taxiway sign.)

I adopted this "Pointing and Calling" technique about ten years ago and it has saved me many times. Remember you need to do this after landing as well. More about this: Pointing and Calling.

Delaying the takeoff checklist

Unless your takeoff checklist is onerously long — and if it is, you should consider shortening it — you should delay it until you have been cleared for takeoff or to line up and wait. Completing the final checklist before you are cleared to go puts us mentally in the "go mode" when we may not be actually cleared to go.

Runway identification and verification

Before entering the departure runway, both pilots should identify the runway signage or pavement number and call out what they see.

"I see Runway 28."

"I agree, this is Runway 28."

Once lined up, both pilots should verify the aircraft's heading agrees with the runway's published magnetic heading. "Heading now 283, agrees with the chart."

Include taxi routes as a part of the approach briefing

No approach briefing is complete unless it includes all aircraft movement until the aircraft is in the parking spot and engines are shut down. If you are unsure of how you will be routed on the ground, you should cover your best guess and alternative options.


5

Runway excursion (almost?): a personal tale

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Anderson Air Base, Guam, 1980 (my photo from a KC-135A)

I took this photo from the right seat of a KC-135A tanker in 1980. I was an Air Force second lieutenant and the copilot. We had on board the crew and our crew chiefs. We were there to support bombers and fighters for the next month. It was my first trip in the Pacific and the idea of landing at Anderson Air Base in Guam was novel enough I just had to take the photo. If it appears the runways end at the water, that is almost true. The runways end at a cliff, which drops 500 feet to the water. That thought would cross my mind just about every time I landed there.

The KC-135A was as old as I was and a common practice was to make all performance numbers 2% more conservative. We would take the landing distance in our manuals, for example, and routinely add 2% because the aircraft was old. It always seemed to work out.

Five years later, I was in the left seat of an EC-135J flying into the same airport and the same runway. I was an Air Force captain and the aircraft commander. We had on board the crew, a deputy to the U.S. Secretary of State and his staff. It was the first leg of a two-week trip that would cover much of Southeast Asia. The island was being drenched by rain and my options were to land or hold. We figured out landing distance for the torrential rainfall and decided it would take 10,500 feet to stop the airplane, which meant we had about 500 feet to spare. I decided to land.

The EC-135J was ten years younger than the old tanker, had larger engines, larger wings, and weighed about 50,000 lbs. more. We did not fudge our performance numbers by 2% because it seemed the charts were accurate. That thought crossed my mind as I felt the anti-skid cycling beneath my feet. These brakes would kick at you and it was unnerving. I brought the airplane to a complete stop on the runway with about 500 feet to spare. The copilot, engineer, and navigator moved on to the after landing checklist and I quietly contemplated those 500 feet. Not the 500 feet extra runway, but the 500 feet from the runway, down the cliff, and to the ocean. The thought has haunted me ever since.

Lessons learned

We often hear our performance numbers are padded by 50% because the engineers don't want to be blamed for "engineering tolerances" or some other lame excuse. Speaking as an engineer, I can tell you the 50% pad is a lie. But our aircraft manufacturers are required to use safety factors and you will often find you and your aircraft perform better than your manuals predict. That is good, for the obvious reason. But it is bad in that it may encourage you to believe the performance numbers can be ignored.

About ten years after my "almost" runway excursion, the Air Force discovered that the method they had been using to measure runway friction was wildly optimistic and most of our takeoff and performance numbers were wrong on everything except a dry runway. For every aircraft I've flown since, I've added a 1,000 foot safety factor on top the performance numbers when it comes to takeoff and landing distances. You could argue that I am giving up a lot of performance and I would agree. But I am willing to do that because a 500' cliff continues to haunt me.


6

Runway excursions: a few examples of how badly things can go

Landing short

Aiming for the first inch of the runway might seem like a good way to avoid not stopping within the confines of that runway. But most of the airplane is behind you and will contact the runway well behind your aim point if you don't perform the flare maneuver perfectly, or even if you do under some circumstances. The crew of Global Express C-GXPR destroyed a practically new aircraft when their tried and true techniques in one aircraft failed in another. More about this: BD-700 C-GXPR.

Wrong runway takeoff

Finding the correct runway at night can be a challenge, even if you are well practiced at the airport in question. It becomes more of a challenge when the taxi routes change. More about this: Comair 5191.

Wrong takeoff procedure

Many of us carry over procedures from earlier aircraft to our new aircraft and some of our earliest habits carry over for our entire careers. Unloading the nose gear during takeoff — the "soft field" technique — is a recipe for disaster in a jet, as this Gulfstream crew found out the hard way. More about this: Gulfstream GIV N23AC.

When things go wrong before landing

There may come a time for you when you think you understand your aircraft so well that a malfunction or two will not phase you or your landing plans. But sometimes your understanding of a malfunction doesn't encompass all the possible complications and you may end up without brakes or other stopping devices. The right answer, often, is to take it around and think things through. More about this: Gulfstream G550 N535GA.

Unstable approach

Many airports are famous for the sheer volume of traffic they handle and pilots can become very good at "give me your best forward speed" and the proverbial "slam dunk" approach. With each successful rushed approach we learn to expand the envelope of what constitutes a "good enough but not stable approach." Reading these case studies can cause you to wonder about the sanity of the pilots willing to fly these unstable approaches. But it may be a better exercise to place yourself in their shoes and think about what you would have done, step by step. More about this: Southwest Airlines 1455.

Wrong landing procedure

A captain with tens of thousands of hours in one aircraft type may not necessarily be the right person to land an airplane of another type. If you've wondered why many business jet operators are reluctant to hire retired airline captains, this case study might shed some light. More about this: Gulfstream GIV N823GA.


7

Runway excursions: recognized avoidance procedures

  • Ensure flight crew awareness and understanding of all factors affecting landing distances;
  • Ensure flight crew awareness and understanding of conditions conducive to hydroplaning;
  • Ensure flight crew awareness and understanding of crosswind and wheel-cornering issues;
  • Ensure flight crew awareness of wind shear and develop corresponding procedures (particularly for the monitoring of groundspeed variations during approach);
  • Ensure flight crew awareness of the relationships among braking action, friction coefficient and runway-condition index, and maximum crosswind components recommended for runway conditions; and,
  • Ensure flight crew awareness of runway lighting changes when approaching the runway end:
    • Standard centerline lighting: white lights changing to alternating red and white lights between 3,000 feet and 1,000 feet from runway end, and to red lights for the last 1,000 feet; and,
    • Runway edge lighting (high-intensity runway light system): white lights changing to yellow lights on the last 2,000 feet of the runway.

Source: FSF ALAR 8.1, p.3


8

Runway excursions: a few avoidance techniques

The recognized procedures given in the previous section and other sources highlight the need to carefully consider aircraft performance, staying on centerline, and recognizing runway distance remaining cues. But even pilots who do all that seem to end up off the runway surface. Why? I think it all boils down to our internal complacency that tells us we "saved it" when things were out of tolerance before, and we can save it again. Sure, we know we need to land in the touchdown zone, but in the few times when we exceeded that by a thousand feet, nothing went wrong. I have been as guilty as others in accepting long touchdowns, veering slightly left or right of centerline, and underestimating the stopping distance required in some situations or failing to consider stopping distances at all. And in all these years I've never found myself off a runway. That creates in all of us the tendency to think we can "save it" the next time we are outside our established limits. So what's to be done about this?

Aircraft performance

Compute aircraft takeoff and landing distances for every takeoff and landing, no exceptions. If your aircraft doesn't do this for you automatically, it may be helpful to have a table printed with common situations for easy reference.

Runway centerline tolerances

During takeoff and landing, crosswinds and other factors can push the aircraft left or right and in an attempt to be smooth, we can find ourselves well left or right of centerline. But on a 150' wide runway, how much off centerline is too much? If, for example, you are 50' left of centerline in that situation, you still have 25' to spare. It is easy to talk yourself into, "good enough!" in the heat of battle.

What is the legal tolerance? Unless your company manuals specify, there really isn't one. If you are flying a multi-engine aircraft certified under Part 25, the manufacturer establishes VMCG, minimum control speed with the critical engine inoperative, so that centerline deviation does not exceed 30 feet. More about this: VMCG.

You should weigh these factors and establish your own tolerances and then stick to them. In my flight department, the tolerance is the distance between the main landing gear, which is 14' in a Gulfstream GVII. So if we deviate so far that either main gear is on the wrong side of centerline, we should call for an abort if below 80 knots. Above 80 knots we continue the takeoff and critique it afterwards. (More on that below.)

Runway takeoff line up tolerances

Your aircraft performance should have a line up distance used for takeoff performance calculations. If not, you should establish a number and add that to the takeoff distance required. In either case, you should also compute what your actual line up distance is for a normal "rolling" takeoff. Part of your takeoff performance briefing should include these numbers and the need to adjust techniques when required. For example: "Today's balanced field is within 1,000 feet of runway distance, so we will need to modify our usual rolling takeoff to static procedures using a tight turn at the runway's end and application of takeoff thrust prior to brake release."

Even if takeoff performance isn't critical, you should note how much runway you have consumed prior to application of takeoff thrust. You can use this to grade yourself and to consider the need to adjust what you allow for a rolling takeoff.

Runway touchdown zone tolerances

I've flown for operations where the criteria for an acceptable landing was: (1) touchdown in the first third of the runway, (2) the established touchdown zone of the runway, or (3) where there was no criteria at all. The problem with the first set of rules is that your performance data doesn't account for that and you might not remember that fact as you are skimming those extra hundreds (or thousands) of feet. The problem with the second method is that you might actually be better off landing a few hundred feet beyond the touchdown zone than attempting a balked landing. The problem with the third method is self evident. So what can we do about this?

The first step in avoiding long landings is to deemphasize the soft touchdown and applaud landings that are on speed, on centerline, and in the touchdown zone. We do this in the critique, discussed below.

The next step is to empower the "go around" call whenever a landing becomes questionable. I know this requires judgment and that may seem contrary to the ideas I've put forth to this point. But a rule that requires a go around no matter the situation is less likely to be enforced.

"Go around" call out

Unless you are in the business of training brand new first officers, you should entrust in your first officers the power to call "go around" when they deem it prudent to do so. Go around in the moment and discuss why after you are on the ground. You should, as a flight department, fully discuss when a go around is appropriate and the idea it is a "no fault" call. Even if it was a mistake to go around, you learn from the exercise.

A common complaint against the "when in doubt, take it around" philosophy is that there may be a time when going around is the worst possible option. If that is the case, you should brief that. For example: "We've had a couple of tries at the approach here and we don't have any other viable alternates. The book says it takes 500 lbs. to go around and make another approach and we have less than that. We will be landing on this approach and going around is not an option."

Critique: grading your performance publicly

You have probably heard much of what I've said here and are wondering if, in the heat of battle, you will be able to abort a takeoff when continuing will probably work out. You may wonder about telling the Pilot Flying (PF) to correct to centerline after touchdown when you have plenty of runway and the offending pilot is the guy who signs your paycheck. As the boss in my last few operations, I sometimes wondered why the Pilot Monitoring (PM) didn't give me the corrections our SOPs demanded. All that changed when we incorporated the "What's the DEAL" post-flight briefing. More about that: Pre-briefs and Post-briefs. The most important part of the post-flight briefing is the critique.

The PF self-critiques all areas of the flight where his or her performance fell short of Standard Operating Procedures, including the runway excursion topics covered in this article. For example: "I got a little sloppy during takeoff and drifted left of centerline. The aircraft weather-vaned a bit and I need to be more aggressive with the rudder. By the time we got to 80 knots I had the correction started so it made sense to continue. But I need to do better in the future." Why mention it at all? This way the PM knows that you were aware and doesn't need to say anything. More importantly, this way you publicly acknowledge your fall from whatever lofty pedestal you were on and you will subconsciously remember to do better the next time. All this is well and good, but what if you, the PF, didn't catch the problem?

The PM should diplomatically ask about any problems not mentioned by the PF. Phrase these as questions to give the PF a chance to self-critique. For example:

  • PM: "The landing felt a little long to me, but we were on speed and on centerline, and I guess I lost track of the fixed distance markers. How did it feel to you?"
  • PF: "Now that you mention it, I think you are right. I really thought the airplane was going to settle right on the fixed distance markers and was surprised it didn't. So I relaxed back pressure and felt the wheels touch just as we passed the 2,000' markers. Not bad, but could certainly be better. I'll work on that!"

Note: these self critiques will only work if the senior pilots freely participate. If you are the boss, you need to critique yourself mercilessly. This will telegraph to the "troops" that you are serious about the process. You must also receive all critiques cheerfully. More about this below.


9

One last story: an exercise in self-critique

One last story, but first a preface. I very rarely land long. From an early age as an Air Force pilot, any tendency to land long was beaten out of me. I have more of a problem landing on centerline. I can go several years without a problem, but out of nowhere, that tendency comes back, usually to the left. So, on with the story.

"Landing long . . ."

About 15 years ago, my flight department bought a new airplane, a Gulfstream G450. We had been flying an older Gulfstream GIV. Everyone was well schooled on the GIV and everyone in the flight department had more experience in the jet than me. But I was in charge. We had already adopted the idea that anyone in the cockpit could critique themselves or the boss, things just had to be done politely. When we bought the G450, I went from the least experienced to the most experienced, having already been type rated.

The G450 was multiple generations ahead of the GIV and as is to be expected, it took months for the new pilots to catch up with the jet. "Hey, did you ever notice there are mile markers before the synthetic runway?" one of them said after finally noticing it. But that is normal, your brain takes a while to soak it all in. So there we were: I was landing the airplane and "S" was in the right seat. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the auto throttles were fully retarded and I was in the middle of the flare when "S" said, "you are going high, long landing." This surprised me, but I unceremoniously forced the airplane onto the runway. After the flight he critiqued me for drifting high in the flare and I thanked him for spotting this.

This happened again with the same result. For the third time I also put the airplane down but as I did so I pointed out the runway markings just ahead of us. During the critique I asked him what he saw and he said it was the 1,000' fixed distance markers. "So if the 1,000' markers were ahead of us, where do you think we touched down?" I asked. "Short of that," he acknowledged. "So why did you think we were landing long?" "Because the glide slope needle shot below us all of a sudden." "Where is the glide slope antenna located along the runway?" It was only then that he realized that is what the glide slope needle does when you pass it. As you approach, on glide slope, it is centered. But as you fly beyond it, it shoots downward. He apologized. "No worries, better that you spoke up."

"Left of centerline . . ."

Two months later, on the same runway with me flying and "S" in the right seat, he said "you are drifting left of centerline." It wasn't much, but it was true. During the critique I thanked him again and I reminded myself for the next few landings: "Centerline!"

"Lesson learned . . ."

Our pilot "S" talks about this now and then when teaching Crew Resource Management. "If the boss bit my head off when I was wrong, do you think I would have been willing to speak up again when he was wrong?" And that is key. If you want to train yourself from doing all those things that lead to runway incursions and excursions, you have to critique yourself often, invite others to critique you, and you have to take those lessons to heart.

References

(Source material)

Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) Approach-and-Landing Accident Reduction (ALAR) Tool Kit Briefing Note 8.1, Runway Excursions

Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, FAA-H-8083-25B, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 2016