Surface Hot Spots at Airports Present Increased Risk of Runway Incursions

There are a total of 617 Surface Hot Spots at U.S. airports, per the Federal Aviation Administration.

Runway  Incursion  El Prat  Barcelona 2014
Runway incursion at Barcelonas El Prat Airport, July 2014. Photo by Miguel A. Ramirez.

July 13, 2014 -- Sooner or later its going to happen again. The same kind of mass-casualty accident that occurred on March 27, 1977, at Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands. On that day, two Boeing 747s, one taxiing and one taking off, collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport, killing 583 people. A vaguely similar disaster transpired at Los Angeles International Airport on February 1, 1991, when a USAir Boeing 737 crushed a twin-turboprop commuter plane, killing nearly three-dozen people, including all twelve aboard Skywest Flight 5569.

Meanwhile, near-misses continue to occur on a regular basis. Consider the heart-stopping incident (pictured above) that was captured on video earlier this month at El Prat Airport in Barcelona, Spain, where a UTair Boeing 767 was forced to abort its landing to avoid obliterating an Airbus A340 that taxied across its path.

But the next runway incursion-related tragedy in the United States will most likely involve one of the more than 600 locations that the FAA has identified as airport surface hot spots, which are defined as location[s] on an aerodrome movement area with a history or potential risk of collision or runway incursion.

Typically, hot spot status is assigned because of a complex or confusing taxiway/taxiway or taxiway/runway intersection, though wrong runway departure risk and runway incursion risk are two other common factors.

Flying Cloud Airport (FCM) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has 11 hot spots, the most of any U.S. airport, while Addison Airport (ADS) in Dallas has nine. And Runway 30 at Long Beach Daugherty Field (LGB) in California (with six hot spots), requires pilots to "be aware that this rwy crosses every other rwy at the arpt." Then there's Alamogordo Holloman AFB (HMN) in New Mexico, where multiple privately owned vehicle access roads present the possibility of high vehicle traffic.

Most remarkably, perhaps, a few hot spots are the result of a lack of signage, as is the case at one of two spots at Ogden-Hinckley (OGD) in Ogden, Utah. And at some airports, not all areas are visible from the control tower, as at Ernest A. Love Field (PRC) in Prescott, Arizona, and Williamson County Regional (MWA) in Marion, Illinois. Pedestrians are a potential problem too, as at Crystal Airport (MIC) in Minneapolis, where multiple vehicle/pedestrian deviations have occurred due to proximity of arpt access points and hangars obscuring twr view.

Following are the states with the most airport surface hot spots (as of July 2014):

  1. California (82)
  2. 2. Florida (41)
  3. 3. Illinois (36)
  4. 4. Minnesota (34) 
  5. 5. Texas (31)

The FAAs Hot Spots List