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Honeywell Envisions “Third Set of Eyes” to Help Pilots Avoid Runway Hazards

Honeywell Envisions “Third Set of Eyes” to Help Pilots Avoid Runway Hazards

Flight safety expert Thea Feyereisen says installing Honeywell’s new Surface Alert (SURF-A) software will be like adding an ever-vigilant “third set of eyes” in the cockpit of an airliner or business jet.

“SURF-A will improve flight crew situational awareness and reduce the risk associated with runway incursions, which are happening more frequently as flight hours increase and airports get busier,” said Feyereisen, Senior Technical Fellow at Honeywell Aerospace Technologies. 

Cockpit alerts are an integral part of a multi-faceted approach to runway safety that also includes groundside systems that warn air traffic controllers of potential problems. Feyereisen said, “Groundside systems alert the control tower, but they don’t warn pilots who are the last line of defense against runway incursions. In many cases, deadly accidents are avoided only through a pilot’s’ last-second heroics.” 

SURF-A will improve safety by giving pilots real-time aural and visual alerts when they’re on a trajectory to collide with an aircraft or ground vehicle within 30 seconds. It uses GPS data, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) equipment and advanced analytics to pinpoint the exact location of traffic hazards. 

SURF-A Takes a Big Step Forward in Runway Safety 

The new technology joins Smart X, our expanding portfolio of runway safety products. Smart X includes the Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) and the SmartRunway and SmartLanding software, which took runway situational awareness to the next level when they were introduced 15 years ago. 

Those technologies, which are available as a software upgrade to an aircraft’s required enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS), boost flight crew situational awareness during taxi, take-off and landing.

“SmartRunway and SmartLanding set the standard for current-generation runway safety technology,” said Priyamvada Poyil, Director of Aerospace Offering Management for Honeywell’s EGPWS and traffic computer product line. “They are installed on about 5,000 commercial aircraft, which is around 20% of the world’s fleet. We regularly hear stories from airlines and pilots about how the software helped them avoid runway incursions, over-runs and wrong-surface landings. We know that SmartRunway and SmartLanding are preventing accidents and saving lives.” 

SmartRunway and SmartLanding use aircraft position data and an accurate runway database to determine if an aircraft is in the correct energy state and position for landing. On takeoff, it also checks to make sure the runway surface is long enough for the type of aircraft.

“SURF-A takes those capabilities up a notch by accessing data directly from the ADS-B Out equipment installed on aircraft and ground vehicles,” Feyereisen said. 

“It establishes the current location and movement of all ADS-B equipped traffic within the runway engagement zone and uses advanced algorithms to identify anything that could cause an incursion within the next 30 seconds,” she said. “If that happens, the system alerts the pilots so they can take the appropriate action to avoid an accident. If everything is going well, the pilots won’t hear from the system.”

SURF-A Passes Major Milestone with December Flight Test 

With the frequency of runway accidents and close calls increasing at an unacceptable rate, we’re accelerating our SURF-A development efforts. 

“In 2018 we began integrating SURF-A as the next-generation improvement to our SmartRunway and SmartLanding technologies,” Poyil said. “Now, we’ve prioritized its development in response to increasing ground-based risks.” 

Honeywell successfully tested SURF-A capabilities during a series of flights in December. Soon we’ll be announcing a series of summer demonstration flights on our Boeing 757 aircraft for regulators, airlines and news media representatives in the U.S. and Europe. 

“It was gratifying to see how effective SURF-A was in our flight tests at alerting pilots so they could execute avoidance maneuvers,” Feyereisen said. “The system checked all the boxes, and we gathered lots of information that will help us accelerate the development and certification processes over the next two years. 

“We hope this new technology will be widely adopted and supported by the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulatory authorities to address runway safety problems that are putting people’s lives at risk.”