The aviation industry is experiencing intense interest in the safety of airport operations. Accident statistics clearly show that most accidents occur during the landing and takeoff phases and account for more than 50% of all onboard and third-party fatalities. Many of these incidents and accidents are associated with the airport environment and its activities. Example of these safety issues include runway incursions, the performance of emergency services, airside ground traffic and operations, occupational health, the condition of pavements and safety areas, winter operations, presence of foreign object debris (FOD), occurrence of bird strikes, development of construction/maintenance activities, land development, presence of obstacles and environmental hazards, just to name a few.

Currently, many airports deal with these safety issues in a reactive manner and without a systemic approach to optimize available resources. Risks and costs inherent in commercial aviation require a rational process for decision-making. Implementation of risk management processes is critical to an effective safety management program. Risks cannot always be eliminated, nor are all conceivable safety management measures economically feasible. Risk management aims to facilitate this balancing act.

Despite unstable trends in aviation expansion in recent years, the industry’s continuous growth is a reality. To meet higher demands for flights, airlines are operating larger aircraft with greater seating capacity. This poses a challenge for many airports for the following reasons:

  • Airfield configurations were established many years ago, often before current design standards were defined.
  • Limitations exist in meeting requirements for larger aircraft, including urban development around the airports, environmental and physical restrictions, etc.

When an airport can not comply with airfield design standards, it is necessary to assess the safety risk for operations under existing conditions. Such analyses will require the application of risk-based methodologies to evaluate if risk levels are acceptable.