UPDATE: Safety Board recommends changes to runway layout at Pearson Airport

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board are recommending Pearson airport change the layout of some of their runways, to fix a "hot spot" problem.

The area in question in the south complex, where two active runways run paralell. They are connected by a series of "rapid exit taxiways".

The red flags started to wave, after the TSB investigated 27 runway incursions, or near misses in a span of five years, between 2012 and 2017.

A runway incursion is defined by the TSB as an incident where an aircraft or ground vehicle "mistakenly occupies an active runway."  Investigators say the potential consequences of a runway incursion "could be catestrophic."

What's also surprising, is that almost every case was the same. Pilots failing to pay close attention to what they were doing and where they were going.

"All 27 incursions examined involved flight crews who understood they needed to stop, and that they were approaching an active runway," says board chair Kathy Fox.

"Despite all the visual cues, including lights, signage and paint markings, professional crews were not stopping in time as required, thereby risking a collision with another aircraft on the other runway."

In five of the incursions, air traffic controllers managed to step in and prevent what could have been a serious collision between two planes.

The board has recommended four things happen to fix the problem:

First to change the wording of the safety transmissions to the crews of the planes. Next would be for Transport Canada to change the regulations so that pilots and crews perform their post flight checks, only after they have cleared all active runways. And finally, physical changes to the layout of the airport, and taxiways.

That could include building a perimeter taxiway, that doesn't cross over the other active runway. Building another taxiway in between the two parallel runways, for which Fox says there is space to do so. Finally, to change the positions of the current taxiways that connect the two runways.

But Fox admits any of those solutions take time and money.


The Greater Toronto Airports Authority, who runs Pearson, released the following statement:

"The GTAA is reviewing the recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board. We welcome the findings and we have fully participated in the review. Safety is our top priority, and we will continue to make improvements that enable continued safe operations for the surrounding communities and the nearly 50 million people who use Toronto Pearson on an annual basis. Since 2013, the GTAA has continued to address incidents at Toronto Pearson by working with the air carriers, particularly those regional U.S. carriers that experience a higher number of the incidents. In addition to specific enhancements to our runways and taxiways, new lighting systems, and mandatory LED backlit signage, we have also provided up-to-date safety information and educational outreach to these carriers about our operations. We remain vigilant with regard to industry trends and developments in technology that can help us meet our commitment to safety."