Operators of Australia’s Perth Airport have implemented seven safety upgrades in the wake of a serious incursion between an airport car performing a routine runway inspection and a QantasLink Boeing 717 that was landing there in rain and low visibility after an instrument approach in July 2014.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the 717 had just touched down on Runway 24 when the first officer spotted the rotating orange beacon of “Safety Two,” the car’s call sign, ahead on the runway and called for an immediate a go-around due to a “car on the runway.”

An Airservices Australia air traffic controller cleared the bright yellow car onto the runway for the foreign object debris (FOD) inspection, but then forgot the car was on the runway when clearing the 717 to land shortly after.
Safety Two had stopped on the centerline markings, facing away from the oncoming traffic, and the safety officer behind the wheel only became aware of the incursion after the 717 flew over at 150 ft. altitude during the go-around. The first officer said the aircraft broke out of the clouds at 700 ft. above the ground and he began looking for the car at 30 ft. altitude based on earlier reports that the inspection was underway in the area. The pilots said they did not hear the controllers clearing the car unto Runway 24. Visibility was approximately 1.6 nm in “moderate” showers at the time of the incident.

Afterward, the crew told investigators that they made a “split-second” decision to perform the go-around, and had they commenced the reverse-thrust action, they “would have been committed” to the landing.  

“The first officer was highly experienced which may have assisted in sighting the vehicle and reacting quickly,” the ATSB says in the final report. “The incident provided a very good example of the value of flight crew knowing their role as pilot flying or pilot monitoring explicitly and maintaining a good awareness of their environment.”

The airport operator made seven changes or actions following the incident, including a mandate that all runway inspections—the airport carries out five daily—be performed facing oncoming air traffic. Driving “with the flow,” or in the same direction that aircraft are operating, had started in May based on a request from the air navigation services provider, Airservices Australia, to “expedite runway inspections by operating with the flow of aircraft traffic….where possible to increase efficiency,” the ATSB says. “Since then, most FOD inspections were conducted with the flow of the aircraft traffic.”

Other actions by the airport include a review of whether a dedicated radio channel is needed for safety officers when operating on or crossing runways, reassessing vehicle lighting and investigating technology that minimizes runway entry and occupancy requirements.

For its part Airservices Australia says an advanced surface movement guidance control system, or ground radar, will be commissioned this year that will track and provide a visual display of all aircraft and vehicles on the airfield.
“In this incident, (air traffic control) would have received an alert indicating the conflict between the aircraft on final and the vehicle on the runway,” the ATSB says.