The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made runway incursion mitigation a focal point over the past few years, aiming to reduce airfield risk factors that could ultimately lead to collisions between aircraft.
At Juneau International Airport outside the capital city of Alaska, an RS&H runway incursion mitigation (RIM) study showed that 50 runway incursions had occurred since 2004. The culprit appeared to be taxiways that did not meet current FAA design standards.
RS&H aviation consultants Michael Becker and Alex McKean needed more than data to draw conclusions. McKean and Becker, a former airport manager and commercially licensed pilot, had to get a closer look.
So the two stood for days watching takeoffs and landings and taxi maneuvers at the airport. But that was just the first step.
“We couldn’t just fly up from the lower 48 and tell the locals what they are doing was unsafe, and ‘Oh, by the way, here’s how we are going to fix your problem.’ We would have been shown the door immediately,” Becker said. “We needed to collaborate with the local pilots, the airlines, and airport staff to find a solution that made sense for everyone.”
The RS&H team and Juneau International Airport Engineer Ken Nichols held a pair of stakeholder meetings at the airport. The first took place in January and focused on the RIM process, historical trends of runway incursions at the airport, existing design and geometry deficiencies, and runway operations. That meeting began the process to identify a potential construction solution for Taxiway C.
Taxiway C at the Juneau airport is filled with action, due in part to its extremely convenient location directly adjacent to the primary loading and unloading area. The taxiway is also abnormally wide, stretching more than 500 feet wide, while most taxiways measure closer to 75 feet across. Smaller aircraft use the same taxiway for mid-runway takeoffs and mid-runway exits after landing. This operation allows aircraft owners to operate to and from the apron without delay, which reduces their operating costs.
The solution presented by RS&H found fast harmony with the local aviators: splitting Taxiway C into two separate, narrower taxiways. By reducing the pavement width, signage and lighting are closer to the pilot’s eye. The more easily seen signage and lighting helps reduce the likelihood of pilots losing their situational awareness.
In analyzing taxiway utilization, Becker and company determined that an additional exit taxiway between Taxiway C and Taxiway D would allow aircraft to exit the runway earlier, thus improving runway occupancy times when landing from the East while allowing for a less aggressive approach and braking when landing from the West.
Stakeholder comments from the two meetings and individual discussions were further analyzed to assess safety risks and operational impacts of the proposed solution.
“The local pilots made it abundantly clear they didn’t want any changes to Taxiway C at first, so to get buy-in after our forums really shows how important it was to spend the time on the ground, listening to their concerns, involving them in solution development, and maintaining open communication,” Becker said. “Our recommendations will ultimately make their operations safer, more efficient, have greater flexibility, and as a bonus, it will meet FAA’s design standards.”