A runway end safety area (RESA) is a clear graded area at the
end of a runway intended to reduce the risk of damage to an
aircraft which overruns the runway. ICAO Annex 14, Aerodrome
Design and Operations, prescribes a standard international RESA of
90 metres for runways coded 3 or 4 from the end of the runway strip
and recommends a RESA of 240 metres where practicable.
When the standard RESA was introduced in Annex 14, Canada
determined that it was impractical to comply with this standard and
filed with ICAO a "Difference" stating:
"Canada does not provide runway end safety areas
That position reflected Transport Canada's concern that the
geography of many Canadian airports would not practically permit an
extension of at least 90 metres at each end.
The "Difference" has been the subject of growing
criticism by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board
("TSB). In its report on the 2005 Air France A340
overrun at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport,
the TSB noted that although the GTAA had established a de facto
RESA of 90 metres at the end of the affected runway 24L, it was
followed immediately by a ravine. The TSB recommended
"The Department of Transport require all code 4 runways
to have a 300m runway end safety area or a means of stopping
aircraft that provides an equivalent level of
In its report on the overrun of a Boeing 727 at Moncton Airport
in March 2010, the TSB was more strident commenting:
"The Board has identified safety areas beyond the
runway's end as a key measure against damage and injuries
resulting from overruns. Despite this, Transport Canada has
still not changed its policy..."
We expect that the TSB's final reports on two recent
overruns at Ottawa International Airport will include still more
forceful recommendations that Transport Canada adopt a standard
In March of 2010, the TSB launched a "watch list" of
transportation safety issues, which it believed posed the greatest
risk to Canadians. On that list, it included:
"Landing accidents and runway overruns continue to
occur at Canadian airports."
ICAO statistics indicate that from 2000 to 2010, there has been
an average of 32 overrun events per year. According to
Transport Canada, the Canadian statistic is three to four times
this world average. Leaving aside the issue of whether these
statistics include "veer offs" as well as runway end
overruns, they have been sufficient to force Transport Canada to
reconsider its position. A recent statement by Transport
Canada indicates that the only other ICAO members which do not
provide runway end safety areas are Greece, Russia and
In 2010, as a part of the CARAC process, Transport Canada issued
a notice of proposed amendment, which would require all code 4
runways to have a RESA of at least 90 metres from the end of the
This proposal has encountered strong opposition from the
Northern Air Transport Association ("NATA"), which argues
the unsuitability of the proposed RESA regulations for northern
airports. NATA argues that the cost of building RESAs at some
northern airports would be prohibitive, resulting in a reduction of
air services to communities already receiving limited
service. NATA points out that aircraft using many northern
airports land at speeds far below those of larger aircraft
operating in the south. In the north, where many runways have
gravel surfaces, NATA urges that the priority for limited capital
expenditures should be the paving of existing runways, not the
construction of new RESAs.
Transport Canada has now assigned the proposed review of RESAs
to an independent risk assessment group, which will try to
determine a reasonable length for a standard RESA in Canada and
will consider whether flexibility can be introduced to any
regulation to permit the application of different standards to
different regions within the country.
While the statistical frequency of aircraft runway overruns
deserves attention, runway length may arguably be the least obvious
and most expensive corrective measure. By far, the largest
number of these events occur in circumstances, like the Air France
case, where the aircraft approaches the runway in rain, crosses the
threshold high and lands far beyond the landing zone at speeds in
excess of recommended procedures. Runways may never be long
enough to contain such landings.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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