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Assessing Civil Aircraft Accident Locations to Create a Model for Land Use Compatibility


Long-established Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards dictate that there be a Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) at each runway end “to enhance the protection of people and property on the ground.” Within the RPZs, FAA Advisory Circular 150/5300-12 indicates that “it is desirable to clear all objects …” The logical question these criteria present is this: is some form of protection of people and property on the ground also desirable for areas beyond the RPZs? Research conducted in the 1990s by the California Department of Transportation found that less than 25% of “near-airport” (within 5 miles), off-runway accidents nationwide occurred within the RPZs. The remaining accident points were spread throughout the surrounding area, but generally concentrated near the RPZs.

This question is equally, if not more, relevant today as development continues to encroach upon airports. The decision as to what land use compatibility criteria should be put in place for new development outside the RPZs is a state and local matter—it is not the intent of this proposed study to provide guidance in this regard. Rather, the need is to provide better data upon which this decision can be based. The California study, though including nationwide accident data, was based upon data mostly from the 1980s and was limited in its extent. An updated study is needed to expand the database and specifically look for changes in accident location patterns from 20 years ago. Additionally, unlike the earlier study which only looked at general aviation aircraft accidents, it is proposed that this study research commercial aviation accident patterns, as well.

The primary source of the data needed for this study is the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). A substantial amount of the data formerly available only on microfiche can now be accessed online. A key data field in each accident record is the geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) of each accident site. Unfortunately, recent attempts to apply this data to determine accident location patterns found that the coordinates have been entered inaccurately more often than not. A more careful reading of the on-line data and possible research into NTSB files not available online will be necessary in order to enable a comprehensive analysis of accident location patterns.

As a additional step, once the accident database is updated would be the creation of an aircraft accident analysis model for land use compatibility planning. In the U.S there is no national policy on a methodology for assessing the possibility of an aircraft accident in the vicinity of an airport, based on such factors as the air traffic composition, activity level, operational procedures, airport geometry, prevalence of adverse weather conditions, and physical conditions for an individual airport. Some state aeronautics departments, (e.g. California and Washington State), have included procedures for assessing airport safety in their Airport Land Use Compatibility Planning Guides. But those procedures are applied broadly to various classes of airports and are unable to account for the effect of local circumstances and differences in air traffic activity level and other characteristics. Moreover, the underlying studies are based on aircraft accident data that are now more than ten years old, and do not take into account any changes in aircraft operational safety records in the last decade.


The objective of this project would be to address two specific research gaps that have been identified through previous work, such as the ACRP 03-03 (Report 27). First, the project would develop an updated national aircraft accident database which contains accident locations relative to the runway ends. The locational information will be reviewed and verified to reflect the true accident location. This database will assist local agencies with providing justifications for land use policies which extend to areas beyond the RPZ. Secondly, the project would develop an aircraft accident analysis model for land uses in the vicinity of airports based on the accident data from this study, along with several factors such as air traffic activity levels and composition, operational procedures, airport layout, and topography and physical constraints around an individual airport. By studying the effect of NextGen technology on aircraft accident patterns, local jurisdictions can be proactive in protecting the areas surrounding their airport for potential changes in the way aircraft may operate in the future.

Sponsoring Committee:AV020, Aviation System Planning
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Date Posted:12/13/2015
Date Modified:03/09/2016
Index Terms:Aircraft crashes, Airport runways, Runway overruns, Aviation safety, Airport operations, Crash data, California, Regional planning, Land use planning,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Safety and Human Factors

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