Preventing Runway Incursions

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 “When you are high up on a mountain, you can see far away easily, but it takes effort to see the ground.”  This is the philosophy behind the unique and innovative concept for runway incursion prevention developed by Mr Mirza Faizan of Avembsys Technologies.

 The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) defines a runway incursion as:

Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft .

Runway incursions are today one of the major factors affecting flight safety.  In India, there are numerous cases of small accidents involving runway incursions every year, with the potential always present for a major disaster, such as the Tenerife airport collision on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport (now known as Tenerife North Airport) on the Spanish island of Tenerife.  A total of 583 passengers died in that incident, making it the deadliest accident in aviation history.  Even if accidents are avoided, incursions often cause costly flight delays.

Animals on the Runway

Animals on the runway are a particularly pervasive problem at many airports in India. There are numerous examples.  In 2005, an aircraft taking off from Pune International Airport ran over a stray animal, which resulted in a two-hour delay for flights.  In 2008, an Air India aircraft narrowly escaped accident when it hit an Indian blue bull during landing at Kanpur Airport in Uttar Pradesh.  Also in 2008, a Kingfisher Airlines aircraft hit a stray dog on the runway at the HAL Bangalore International Airport, resulting in the aircraft’s landing gear collapsing.  The aircraft skidded off the runway and its nose collapsed; four passengers were injured.  Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan recently ordered an Airport Environmental Committee (AEC) enquiry into the recurring mishaps – hundreds every year – caused by stray animals on the runway at Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur.

While great advances have been made in air traffic control and navigation to prevent mid-air accidents, the problem of runway incursion has not, to date, been adequately dealt with.  Some improvements have been made through runway markings, lighting and training but the problem persists.

Some of the major international aerospace companies, such as NASA, Honeywell and MITRE Corporation, have developed runway incursion systems.  However, these have not gained wide acceptance.

One Indian company says it has now come up with a unique solution which is: “clever, practical and cost-effective”.  Avembsys Technologies is a new company established specifically to develop Mirza Faizan’s concept.  He calls the system the Ground Reality Information Processing System – GRIPS.

“Most of the other incursion prevention systems out there depend a lot on ground radar,” explained Mr Faizan, “One problem with ground surveillance radar systems is the time between sweeps (approximately 10 seconds).  I’ll give you an example. Let’s say there’s an aircraft on the taxiway which is slowly moving onto the runway.  On one sweep, the aircraft is on the taxiway; by the next sweep, it’s already on the runway.  By the time ATC realises that there has been an incursion, it’s too late; the aircraft can’t back up.”

The manufacturer says that instead of relying on ground radar, “which is very expensive and is not presently installed at the majority of Indian airports”, GRIPS relies on an array of laser sensors, pressure sensors in the runway and CCTV cameras to monitor the runway for incursions of any type.  It is powered by what is describes as an ‘intelligent’ algorithm that can identify potentially dangerous incursions and immediately alert the air traffic controller with audio and visual alerts.

The company states that GRIPS can also identify foreign particles on the runway and help prevent incidents such as the Air France Concorde Flight 4590 crash in 2000, which was caused by debris left on the runway by a previous flight and resulted in the death of all 100 passengers and nine crew members on board.

“We have not used any wireless communication because in wireless communication there may be jitters or interference”, said Faizan.  “The moment anything enters on the runway, ATC will be informed in a matter of milliseconds.  All the entry points on the runway will also flash emergency signs so that the pilot knows.”

According to Faizan, the company deliberately avoided any direct communication between the system and the pilot so that changes in the aircraft could be avoided; any changes to aircraft would make it much more difficult to implement the system.  He said, “We have made this technology easy to implement.  We give visual cues to the pilot. We give visual and audio cues to the ATC.  Say there is an incursion at point Bravo.  The ATC will know that there is an incursion at point Bravo and he can say, ‘Whoever is at point Bravo, please stop.’”

When asked how it came to be that giants of aerospace technology like NASA hadn’t thought of the same idea, Faizan replied, “When you are high up on a mountain, you can see far away easily, but it takes effort to see the ground.  You see, almost all new technology today is nothing but an extension of already available technology.  The mobile phone is an extension of radio; NASA is working on systems that are an extension of ground radar.  We are often engrossed with the technology we already have – but you have to think outside of the box.  You have to look at the ground reality.”

Faizan said that he first came up with the idea for GRIPS while he was working for a large aerospace company overseas.  That company offered to pay him a substantial sum for the idea, but he insisted that it should be developed by an Indian company.  He explained, “I wanted the world to know that an Indian engineer developed this.  In science and technology, Indians have a lot of talent and we do a lot of work, but what happens is that companies or individuals who have money buy the technology and claim it to be their own.”

Faizan called his brother, Mirza Rizwan, who was working as a banker in Dubai.  They both left their jobs and invested their money in establishing Avembsys.  “Some of our friends also invested their money,” said Rizwan,  “Today we are looking for venture capitalists.  We have proved the concept and developed the system.  Now, in order to commercialise the system, we are looking for some money.”

Rizwan explained his business model for GRIPS.  “We will undertake all the costs of equipment and installation and charge the airport a fee on a per-flight basis, say around 500 Rupees.  In the end, this will mean that each passenger would have to pay just a few rupees on top of their ticket price.”

The potential value of GRIPS has already caught some attention as Avembsys has been featured in articles in several Indian newspapers, including the Bangalore Mirror and Times of India.  “Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) has shown immense interest in installing this system and has invited us to give a demo,” said Faizan.  “Mr. Mark Coogan, Operational Consultant at Swissport, UK has also recommended GRIPS to National Air Traffic Services at Birmingham Airport, UK”, he added.

Runway Overshot Prevention

Avembsys is also developing a system to prevent runway overruns.  Air India Express IX 812 recently overran the runway and crashed in Mangalore, killing 158 people.  The manufacturer says that its Runway Excursion Prevention System would take a range of data including the runway’s friction coefficient, current weather conditions, speed, trajectory and weight of the aircraft to instantly calculate whether a landing is within safe parameters and give an audible warning to the pilot if it isn’t.  Unlike GRIPS, this system depends on data from the aircraft’s SMS computer – in particular, the aircraft’s weight on wings.  Hence, it would be much more challenging to implement.  As an interim solution, until such time as aircraft are equipped to transmit the weight on wings directly, ATC can verbally ask the pilot to report the weight on wings and enter it into the system.

The Runway Excursion Prevention System is now in a development phase. “We hope to integrate this module with GRIPS by December, 2011,” said Faizan.

Generic Features and Working Details of GRIPS Runway Incursion

 

ATC schedules an aircraft to take-off or land on a particular runway, thus blocking that runway electronically at all entry points.

The ATC Control and Display Unit (CDU) also has live video display from cameras.

Aircraft ‘A’ is approaching active runway for a safe take-off / landing.

At the same time, aircraft ‘B’, unaware of the plane on active runway, is proceeding towards the runway from the taxiway at point Bravo.

Because the runway is blocked electronically, aircraft ‘B’ is detected by sensors.

(see picture below)

 

When aircraft ‘B’ enters through the series of sensors, the system detects the aircraft and calculates its speed.

If aircraft ‘B’ is not slowing down to stop at hold short (place where aircrafts have to stop before entering runways), the system generates a warning to both pilot and ATC, once the aircraft crosses the last sensor.

 

The pilot is flashed with red strobe lights with

‘STOP – RUNWAY INCURSION’ message on the electronic

 display board.

ATC is informed with an alarm sound and audio warning:

‘ALARM – INCURSION AT POINT BRAVO’

Camera fitted at point Bravo sends live video feed to the ATC for visual confirmation.

Similarly, this system can also detect incursion by airport vehicles, humans and even wildlife.

Runway Foreign Object Detection

The entire runway is fitted with long range cameras which take a picture every 30 seconds.

A picture is processed with a complex algorithm to find the presence of any foreign object on runway by comparing it with a picture of clear runway already stored in the system’s database.

If any foreign object is detected, the system sends a warning to ATC, including live video feed and the precise location of the foreign object on the runway.

This entry was posted in Air Traffic Control, Features.

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