On any given day, the NAS may handle almost 200,000 takeoffs and landings. Due to the complex nature of the airport environment and the intricacies of the network of people that make it operate efficiently, the FAA is constantly looking to maintain the high standard of safety that exists at airports today. Runway safety is one of its top priorities. The Runway Safety Program (RSP) is designed to create and execute a plan of action that reduces the number of runway incursions at the nation’s airports.

The RSP office has created a National Blueprint for Runway Safety. [Figure 2-7] In that document, the FAA has identified four types of runway surface events:

  • Surface Incident – an event during which authorized or unauthorized/unapproved movement occurs in the movement area or an occurrence in the movement area associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of flight.
  • Runway Incursion – an occurrence at an airport involving an aircraft, vehicle, person, or object on the ground that creates a collision hazard or results

in a loss of separation with an aircraft that is taking off, intending to take off, landing, or intending to land.

  • Collision Hazard – a condition, event, or circumstance that could induce an occurrence of a collision or surface accident or incident.
  • Loss of Separation – an occurrence or operation that results in less than prescribed separation between aircraft, or between an aircraft and a vehicle, pedestrian, or object.

Runway incursions are further identified by four categories: ATC operational error, pilot deviation, vehicle/pedestrian deviation, and miscellaneous errors that cannot be attributed to the previous categories.

Since runway incursions cannot be attributed to one single group of people, everyone involved in airport operations must be equally aware of the necessity to improve runway safety. As a result, the RSP created goals to develop refresher courses for ATC, promote educational awareness for air carriers, and require flight training that covers more in depth material concerning ground operations. Beyond the human aspect of runway safety, the FAA is also reviewing technology, communications, operational procedures, airport signs, markings, lighting, and analyzing causal factors to find areas for improvement.

Runway safety generates much concern especially with the continued growth of the aviation industry. The takeoff and departure phases of flight are critical portions of the flight since the majority of this time is spent on the ground with multiple actions occurring. It is the desire of the FAA and the aviation industry to reduce runway surface events of all types, but it cannot be done simply through policy changes and educational programs. Pilots must take responsibility for ensuring safety during surface operations and continue to educate themselves through government and industry runway safety programs.


While mechanical failure is potentially hazardous during any phase of flight, a failure during takeoff under instrument conditions is extremely critical. In the event of an emergency, a decision must be made to either return to the departure airport or fly directly to a takeoff alternate. If the departure weather were below the landing minimums for the departure airport, the flight would be unable to return for landing, leaving few options and little time to reach a takeoff alternate.

In the early years of air transportation, landing minimums for commercial operators were usually lower than takeoff minimums. Therefore, it was possible that minimums allowed pilots to land at an airport but not depart from that airport. Additionally, all takeoff Figure 2-7. National Blueprint for Runway Safety. minimums once included ceiling as well as visibility requirements. Today, takeoff minimums are typically lower than published landing minimums and ceiling requirements are only included if it is necessary to see and avoid obstacles in the departure area.

The FAA establishes takeoff minimums for every airport that has published Standard Instrument Approaches. These minimums are used by commercially operated aircraft, namely Part 121 and 135 operators. At airports where minimums are not established, these same carriers are required to use FAA designated standard minimums (1 statute mile [SM] visibility for single- and twin-engine aircraft, and 1/2 SM for helicopters and aircraft with more than two engines).

Aircraft operating under Part 91 are not required to comply with established takeoff minimums. Legally, a zero/zero departure may be made, but it is never advisable. If commercial pilots who fly passengers on a daily basis must comply with takeoff minimums, then good judgment and common sense would tell all instrument pilots to follow the established minimums as well.

NACO charts list takeoff minimums only for the runways at airports that have other than standard minimums. These takeoff minimums are listed by airport in alphabetical order in the front of the TPP booklet. If an airport has non-standard takeoff minimums, a (referred to by some as either the “triangle T” or “trouble T”) will be placed in the notes sections of the instrument procedure chart. In the front of the TPP booklet, takeoff minimums are listed before the obstacle departure procedure. Some departure procedures allow a departure with standard minimums provided specific aircraft performance requirements are met. [Figure 2-8]