A considerable number of reporting formats exist which are used for informing the airliners and the flight crew about dry, wet and contaminated runway surface conditions. Flight crew crossing State and Regional borders are faced with a variety of ways this information is gathered, promulgated and disseminated.
The information conveyed is the information needed for the safe operation of the aircraft. The information is gathered by the ground personnel responsible for maintaining the runway in an operational state. The information is than communicated through the system in various ways, but ultimately the information reaches the flight crew, who need to take the final decision based upon the information provided. This identifies two important human interfaces – the ground personnel monitoring the runway and the flight crew.
The ground staff is the “eyes” on the runway for the pilot in command. By constantly monitoring the runway, its surface friction characteristics and deposits of contaminants the ground staff update the pilot-in-command. There are also other people on the ground aiding the flight crew in taking decisions. Traditionally, the dispatcher, who is the person who signs the document required for every departing flight, verifies that the aircraft complies with the weight limitations for take-off and landing. The dispatcher is the airliner’s main liaison to the flight crew and in some states they are licensed. The dispatcher gets the runway state information from the pilot-in-command’s “eyes” on the runway – the ground staff.
In today’s world, diverse technologies are available to aid the ground staff in their work to generate runway state reports – varying from simple technologies, such as faxing the written report from the office after completion, to the fully automated, where the information is provided in real time for worldwide distribution while still in the inspection vehicle. However, regardless of technologies used, it is the quality of the information collected and provided that dictates the quality of the information received by the flight crew. This information is provided in various ways; written and by use of phraseology and often in parallel work streams.
Parallel work streams can lead to confusion
What is the correct updated information when the same information differs in two parallel work streams? Different technologies (and generation of technology) and different frequency for updating information can cause such confusion. The different work streams might carry various (not complete) sets of information. Significant information collected and disseminated might not reach the flight crew if they based their decisions on incomplete information. Confusion is a contributing factor to accidents and incidents could be the end result.
The language in the reporting format and associated procedures
It is not just the different reporting formats that can cause confusion, but also the associated procedures. What language shall be used? By language in this context it is the taxonomy used. It is the conception, naming and classification of the various forms of runway state to be reported. The answer to our question can be found in the highlighted line above. It is the information needed for the safe operation of the aircraft. Now the focus is shifting from the airport to the aircraft. The information needed is the one asked for by the approved documentation belonging to the aircraft. This documentation is approved by manufacturer through certification (Dry and wet) or by the State of registry (Contaminated).
It is really the variety and complexity of the approved documentation that generates the language to be used in the reporting format. Through various national and international research projects over the last two decades, this has been more and more highlighted and there is a move towards more unified concepts between the major aircraft manufacturers. There is an operational need for speaking the same language using a common set of taxonomy and definitions. This language must be of such a quality that it does not cause confusion within or outside the industry it is intended to serve.
ICAO Friction Task Force
In 2006, ICAO addressed the issue and in 2008 the ICAO Friction Task Force (FTF) was established. In its phase 1 the friction task force reviewed ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and ICAO guidance materials related to friction at the important tyre-to-ground interface. These are now milling through the formal processes of ICAO and will result in updated ICAO SARPs and guidance material. Furthermore, the FTF developed an ICAO Circular 329 – Assessment, Measurement and Reporting of Runway Surface Conditions – to establish a conceptual understanding of the friction issues and recommends a holistic approach to the reporting of the pavement surface friction characteristics. The Circular provides a basis for future improvements in the larger remit of assessing and reporting of runway surface conditions. Now in its phase 2, the Friction Task Force is tasked to develop a global reporting format for use in the 190 contracting States of ICAO.
The Global Reporting Format
There is an urgent need to report runway state conditions in a standardised manner that will enable flight crew to use this information to determine, as accurately as possible, aircraft performance for take-off and landing. Runway condition reporting should use terminologies and values that can be utilised in conjunction with the aircraft performance charts supplied by the manufacturers. This terminology should then be used by all the different stakeholders in the value chain promulgating and disseminating the runway state information.
Traditionally, the existing reporting formats have developed from needs to operate the aircraft. Operational needs in this context have a wide interpretation and have been interpreted differently between States and Regions and been influenced by vested interests. More importantly, the aircraft manufacturer might not have been involved, or only involved to a lesser degree, resulting in reporting formats that are not harmonised with the approved documentation provided by the manufacturer. Developing a global reporting format is a process of harmonising the existing ICAO NOTAM and SNOWTAM formats in all its variations as interpreted by States worldwide, but more importantly to harmonise it with the operational need as “dictated” by the approved performance documentation provided by the aircraft manufacturer. But even more important, the recognition of the fact that such a reporting format is not a static format, it is a format in constant evolution governed by ICAOs four C’s of aviation.
1. Cooperation in the formulation of SARPs
2. Consensus in their approval
3. Compliance in their application, and
4. Commitment of adherence to this ongoing process.
It is an achievable comprehensive across ICAO Annexes harmonisation process.
In phase 1 the FTF recommended that personnel assessing and reporting required runway surface conditions should be trained and competent to meet criteria set by the State. Such training must be in compliance with a global reporting format, and such training should involve the complete value chain, from ground staff to the pilot-in-command.
The value of a global reporting format
A reporting format resulting from, and in compliance with, such a process is the true Global Reporting Format. The real value of it is that pilots-in-command on international flights can relate to one set of taxonomy, one set of definitions and one set of phraseology used by trained and competent personnel worldwide.
By Armann Norheim, Head of the ICAO Friction Task Force.