FLYING Magazine

When an aircraft is someplace it isn’t supposed to be, it often results in a potentially dangerous situation, putting the lives of the flight crew and passengers at risk. These run the gamut from incursions when an aircraft doesn’t have permission to be on the runway because another one is already there, excursions—or runway overruns—and wrong-surface events, such as an aircraft landing on the wrong runway or on a taxiway by mistake.

In April, Honeywell announced development of Surface Alert (SURF-A), a software technology that will help pilots avoid these types of events. Now the company is testing the product using its specially equipped Boeing 757.

READ MORE: Honeywell Developing Software to Reduce Runway Incursions

On Friday FLYING and other media were offered a seat on a demonstration flight. In the left seat a Honeywell pilot took the role of PIC while pilot evaluators from potential customer airlines occupied the right seat and jumpseat on the flight deck.

The idea is that SURF-A will be integrated with Honeywell’s already existing Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) and Smart X, the company’s software designed to enhance runway situational awareness that has been aboard many business aircraft for more than 10 years.

Demonstration Flight

The demonstration flight was staged out of King County International Airport/Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle destined for Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field (KYKM). The flight to Yakima takes about 20 minutes in a 757. The tower operators at KYKM were briefed on the plan and ready. 

Also partaking in the test was a Falcon 900, which was designated the intruder aircraft by Honeywell. Its job was to “get in the way” of the 757 on the ground.

A Falcon 900 was designated the intruder aircraft during the SURF-A demonstration flight. [Courtesy: Meg Godlewski]

The test scenarios were drawn from real-world events—such as the runway incursion at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (KAUS) in Texas in February 2023 when air traffic control cleared a FedEx 767-300 freighter to land on Runway 18L occupied by a Southwest Airlines 737. The investigation revealed that when the 737 requested takeoff clearance, it was still taxing toward the runway. The controller, presuming the 737 was at the runway threshold, issued the clearance. At the time the 767 was on a less than a mile final. The 737 crew then paused on the runway for 19 seconds to run up the engines per deicing procedures before beginning its takeoff roll.

The crew of the 767 saw the airliner below in time to execute a go around, offsetting to avoid the jet passing beneath them.

[Courtesy: Meg Godlewski]

The other incursion resulting in a scenario took place in January 2023 at JFK International Airport (KJFK) in New York when an American Airlines Boeing 777 was cleared to taxi to Runway 4L via bravo and kilo, then to cross Runway 31L. It missed the turn, however, and taxied across 4L instead of 31L at the same time a Delta Air Lines B737 was cleared for takeoff on Runway 4L. The 737’s takeoff clearance was canceled, and the aircraft came to a stop approximately 1,000 feet from the other one.

Finally, a wrong-surface event (lining up on a taxiway instead of the runway) and runway excursion, where the pilot gets behind the airplane flying an unstable approach and the aircraft is too fast and improperly configured to land on the first third of the runway.

About the Aircraft

The Honeywell 757 was equipped with cameras in the cockpit and computer monitors in the observer seats (formerly known as first class) to show the pilot’s view. Headsets allowed reporters on the flight to listen to cockpit communications. Mid-cabin on the 757, Honeywell engineers evaluated data during the flight at a series of computer workstations.

The pilot of the 757 contacted Yakima Tower and requested permission to perform each scenario. The tower had been briefed prior to the flight, and each request was approved with the final words “at your own risk” as these are not normal maneuvers for a 757.

How SURF-A Works

According to Thea Feyereisen, a senior technical fellow at Honeywell who specializes in human factors, there is a lot that can go wrong when you mix people and machines, especially when something unexpected happens.

SURF-A uses GPS data, ADS-B equipment, and advanced analytics to pinpoint the exact location of traffic hazards, such as an aircraft ahead  crossing the runway.

Mid-cabin on the 757, Honeywell engineers evaluated data during the flight at a series of computer workstations. [Courtesy: Meg Godlewski]

The software algorithm, combined with GPS position, alerts the pilot of an aircraft equipped with SURF-A as soon as the throttles are advanced. There is an aural alert and auditory warning followed by a textual display on the pilot’s primary flight display.

Company officials said that the technology, once certified by the FAA, can be installed in aircraft already flying as well as in new production aircraft. It was noted that the Honeywell 757 is a 42-year-old airframe and does quite well with the retrofit.

Demos Begin

The weather the day of the demonstration flight was severe clear, so the Falcon was visible on the runway at KYKM during the approach. The 757 was cleared for landing with the usual altitude callouts. When the aircraft was about a mile out, an urgent aural warning sounded, and a female voice urgently announced: “Traffic on runway! Traffic on runway!” The same message appeared in a text message on the pilot’s display. The first warning came about 30 seconds before “landing,” and the second one approximately 15 seconds ahead of touchdown—and a potential collision.

The next two demonstrations involved the 757 lining up to land on a taxiway, and another with the 757 preparing for takeoff with the Falcon crossing well down the 7,604-foot runway ahead—so far down that in the flat morning light of the high desert, the smaller jet could not be easily seen from the cockpit.

READ MORE: Honeywell Crafts Safer Approaches Through Technology

In the excursion demonstration, the 757 pilot came in too fast and improperly configured, forgetting to slow down or apply the appropriate flaps. When this happens in the real world, some pilots, although behind the airplane, do their best to make the landing, resulting in an unstable approach where they run out of runway—but not inertia—and go off the end of the pavement. SURF-A supplies callouts of distance remaining, letting the pilot know exactly how much room they have left to work with.

Honeywell estimated that FAA certification of SURF-A is 12 to 18 months away, joining its portfolio of other runway safety products, which include a Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) and the SmartRunway and SmartLanding software introduced 15 years ago.

The post Honeywell Demonstrates SURF-A Runway Incursion Avoidance Tech appeared first on FLYING Magazine.

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