Runway closures

The runway at [Airport] is in desperate need of repairs, full of patches and bumps. In itself, this is little more than mildly annoying. The safety concern arises because these patches frequently breakup during normal operations resulting in immediate runway closure which typically lasts an hour or so while emergency repairs are undertaken. As an occasional occurrence, this would be no more than inconvenient to the diverting traffic. But it is not occasional, these unplanned runway closures are happening a few times a month and seem to be getting more frequent.

As pilots, we look at weather and NOTAMs to carry a safe yet cost-effective fuel load. We cannot plan for unexpected runway closures everyday, which is appropriate when these events are rare. They are no longer rare at [Airport]. Safety margins are eroded significantly when aircraft divert with low fuel and little time to prepare. Not to mention the disruption and delays caused to passengers and crew. Local crews are routinely carrying extra fuel to [Airport], unfamiliar crews have no warning of the problem so cannot learn.

I hope that CHIRP can access data from the airport on the frequency of these closures to assess the scale of the problem. There is concern among pilots that nothing is being done to address the problem and it would be helpful if CHIRP could establish if there is a plan is place.

Airport Comment

We understand the frustration that short notice closures cause flight crews and agree that over the summer period we experienced some breakups. The runway at [Airport] is an aged asset and is due for replacement in [the next couple of years], this programme is in-flight with Airline engagement already started. We have an extensive inspection regime that will identify any breakups quickly with our normal approach being to affect a temporary repair during the day (scheduled to minimise any disruption), followed by a permanent repair through the night.

At [Airport], we schedule two runway rehabilitation periods of engineering works every year, the first is pre-summer with the second executed in November. The scope of these works are determined by a full civil engineering assessment and this is also supported by our CAA Aerodrome Inspector. Since November’s rehab we have had 3 runway closures: 2 planned (outwith operational hours); and 1 unplanned (8 min closure and scheduled to avoid any impact to traffic). A NOTAM is a temporary measure which, given the data above, we don’t believe is warranted at this time, although we would remain open to the concept should the frequency of breakups increase to a point where regular and consistent diversions were required.

We have added this issue to the agenda of our Local Runway Safety Team meeting which has representation from all parties who use the runway including Airlines, Air Traffic, Operations etc and is a regular and well-attended forum with minutes being issued to all users regardless of attendance.

CHIRP is grateful for the Airport’s pro-active response to our enquiries. It’s a tricky matter to decide when the frequency of closures might warrant a NOTAM but the key issue is to make sure that all airline users are aware of the problem so that they can take mitigations, which is what the intent of a NOTAM would be. Adding the issue to the agenda of the runway safety team forum meets that requirement to ensure that all users are made aware of the issue, and this represents a positive outcome from this report.