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23 November 2008

Idea: Airport Naming Convention to reduce runway accidents



1. From this article [ ], we get :

“The report showed that the 2007 global accident rate of 0.75 losses for every million flights by Western-built jet aircraft was slightly higher than the 0.65 rate recorded in 2006.

“The number of global fatalities declined 19 percent to 692, as passenger numbers increased by six percent to over 2.2 billion passengers in 2007.

“In total, there were 100 accidents in 2007 -- 57 for jet aircraft and 43 for turboprop -- compared with 77 accidents in 2006.”

2. The above Para 1 mentions only 'real' accidents on the runways and real fatalities but the total number of what is termed “runway incursions”, that is, mostly near-misses of airplane collisons, is far higher.

3. Specifically, I would like to refer to the tragic case of SQ 006 which took off on the wrong runway [closed, with construction pits and equipment halfway down the runway], crashing, burning, killing ~82 people on 31 Oct 2000. See :

4. A report is given in this url, from which the airport maps are taken :

5. This is the map of the whole airport layout. The beginning of the fatal wrong take-off on [closed] Runway 05R instead of the [correct] parallel 05L, occured top left of this map, circled in red and also detailed in a closer, zoom-in smaller map of the area circled [click on pictures to enlarge] :

6. Look at the closer map just above and note that in this fatal accident, SQ006 was suppposed to taxi along NP, then turn a right angle 90 degrees onto taxi-way N1 to taxi across Runway 05R to the correct Runway 05L. This means that SQ006 should have cut across and passed Runway 05R towards the further Runway 05L. From the taxi-way NP into N1, after turning right, SQ006 would taxi ~100 metres to reach Runway 05R but ~300 metres to reach the correct Runway 05L. Instead, SQ006 taxied from NP, turned right 90 degrees onto N1 BUT TAXIED ONLY THE ~100 METRES INSTEAD OF ~300 METRES ONTO THE CORRECT RUNWAY 05L. It may seem incredible that an experienced pilot and his officers could mistake 100 for 300 metres and thus take off from the wrong runway but this happens very frequently in airports all over the world even in the best of visibility and conditions. I believe the main reason is an over-reliance on abstract, technical procedures that are totally divorced from our daily, human experiences and judgments. For example, in this case, the pilot and his flight crew had runway and taxi-way lights, signboards, painted letterings on the runways and taxi-ways, control tower instructions, even advisory notes in hand, but still took off from the wrong runway BECAUSE NONE OF THESE CATER TO OUR INNATE, HUMAN EXPERIENCES AND JUDGMENTS.

7. So the crux of my idea is to build in clues or data into the runway procedures through nomenclature such that the very Name of a runway would have enough data that are cognizant to all pilots' human experiences to make it that much more intuitive and 'normal' thus hopefully, preventing such runway incursions or accidents.

8. For example, suppose we try to name humans. It is perfectly OK to name them Tom, Tan, Thambu, etc. But if you want to add data to these names, you could, for example, name them Tom28, Tan32, Thambu67, etc, the numbers signifying their age. Similarly, you can name them Tom75, etc, to signify their weight in kilos. Thus, this addition of data to the names makes them a lot more informative, even more meaningful.

9. In the case of our Runways, naming them, as currently, 05R and 05L, is like Tom and Tan. But if we rename them Runway 05R100 and Runway 05L300 or shorter, Runway 100 and Runway 300, WE WOULD HAVE ADDED THE DATA OF 100 METRES AND 300 METRES [FROM THE NP TAXI-WAY], THUS GIVING A VERY HUMAN, INTUITIVE DATA THAT ALL HUMAN PILOTS CAN FROM THEIR OWN INNATE EXPERIENCE, UNDERSTAND, 'FEEL', AND ESTIMATE PRETTY ACCURATELY. All pilots drive and experience [mostly road] distances in metres and yards, so this Data is directly relevant, intuitive and easily estimated even without any training or special effort. Thus, making runway taxi-ing and manoeuvring less abstract, more easily and intuitively understandable, almost like driving a car to a carpark or onto roads nearby. So, overall, much safer. From the air, pilots can also 'see' and estimate say, Runway 100 and Runway 300, especially when the Starting Point from which the 100 and 300 metres are measured, is clearly indicated.

10. The numbers should be taken from METRES because most of the world thinks and estimates in metres but since Metres are close to YARDS, non-metric pilots can also estimate pretty well, too. Thus, only the Number needs to be given, to the nearest 10 metres or so; no need to state Metres or Yards, etc.

11. Of course, all measurements and numbers must be taken from a clear and obvious Starting Point. In the case of this Taipei Airport, and probably in the vast majority of airports in Asia and probably also the world, I believe most runways are parallel, like in Taipei, so the Starting Point would be the Turning From NP. This should be clearly indicated by the usual Big Signs, Special Lights, Painted Letterings on the runways and taxi-ways, etc. As well as in Control Tower communications and literature. This would be about the cost of this idea. A lot cheaper than Airport Surveillance Radars [ see ].

12. This Naming System can make for easier and hopefully, safer, more intuitive, control tower instructions. For example, suppose you want a pilot to taxi 50 metres onto NP, turn Left, taxi another 400 metres, turn Right onto N1 taxi-way, taxi another 300 metres to Runway 300, you could use shorthand thus : 50=NP/L=400/R=N1=300@Run300. You could even SMS this. Since all distances and turnings on the runways and taxi-ways are already mapped and calculated to the nearest metre, this is easy to implement.

13. However, not all airports are so symmetrical. Some, like the one just below, are pretty confusing in layout, especially without a detailed plan drawing or blueprint. For this minority of airports, I leave the task of improving or implementing my idea to people more familiar with airport and runway operations. This kind of layout is putting me out of my depth.

Robert HO; Sun 16 Nov 2008.