Runway Incursion vs. Excursion – What Is The Difference?

Accidents that occur at airports can often be classified as either a runway incursion or excursion. Though severe incidents remain rare, minor examples happen more frequently than one might think. However, what is the difference between these two types of incidents?

A FedEx MD-11 was involved in a runway excursion in Mumbai in June 2020. Photo: Getty Images

Runway incursions

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) 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 categorized separately to ‘surface incidents.’ This term concerns unapproved movements with the potential to affect flight safety that take place away from an airport’s runway(s), such as on its taxiways or apron. The FAA categorizes runway incursions with increasing severity as follows:

  • D – Incidents that meet the definition of a runway incursion, but have no immediate safety consequences.
  • C – Incidents in which there is ample time/distance for the parties involved to avoid a collision.
  • B – Incidents with decreased separation between the parties involved, resulting in significant collision potential. Time-critical correction/evasive response may be required in order to avoid a collision.
  • A – Incidents in which a collision is only narrowly avoided.
  • Accident – Incidents in which the runway incursion results in a collision.
S7 Aircraft Getty
Russia’s S7 Airlines recently experienced a runway incursion by a bear, forcing a go-around. Photo: Getty Images

Incidents of varying severity

Such incidents have the potential to be incredibly severe. The Tenerife airport disaster in March 1977 resulted in 583 fatalities after two Boeing 747s, operated by KLM and Pan Am, collided on the runway at Tenerife North Airport. More recent examples include:

Runway excursions

A runway excursion, on the other hand, is an incident in which an aircraft leaves the runway surface. This can either be in the form of veering off to the side, or overshooting the end of the runway. The FAA states that:

“These surface events occur while an aircraft is taking off or landing, and involve many factors ranging from unstable approaches to the condition of the runway.”

Air Inida Express 737
Air India Express flight 1344 was the last runway excursion to result in fatalities. Photo: Getty Images

Recent runway excursions include:

In order to reduce runway excursions and their associated dangers, the FAA has developed an online support tool. This resource carries a particular focus on upcoming winter operations, as this is a time in which weather is likely to be less favorable. It is refreshing to see the FAA tackling this problem head-on, despite the distractions of the present challenging aviation climate.

What are your thoughts about runway incursions and excursions? Let us know what you think in the comment section.