US airports now have software to prevent aircraft from landing on taxiways by mistake

The technology has already proven useful.

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Pilots have to worry about more than just mid-flight crashes and bad weather — they also risk a collision if they land on the taxiway instead of the runway. Thankfully, they have now have a digital safeguard. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tells Axios that 43 major US airports are now using ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction (ATAP), a software platform that warns air traffic controllers if an aircraft is lining up to land on a taxiway by mistake. An aviator shouldn't endanger lives on the ground simply because they're inexperienced or fatigued.

The system relies on standard radar along with other sensors. It also works regardless of aircraft size — it can flag small turboprops and large airliners. ATAP first saw use at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 2018, and the FAA says it finished software upgrades at compatible airports last September. Some of the airports using the tech include Boston Logan, Chicago O'Hare and New York's JFK.

This is more than just a theoretical exercise. The FAA notes ATAP has caught over 50 potential taxiway landings since 2018, and there have been eight alerts so far in 2023. While accidental landings are far less common than crashes (and thus far less deadly), the software may still be helpful even if it prevents chaos from an aircraft disrupting the queue.

ATAP's rise comes as aircraft and airports increasingly rely on digital safety systems. Airbus, for instance, recently began testing a pilot assist that can automatically divert flights in emergencies, aid with taxiing and even land if the pilots are incapacitated. Full autonomy is still distant, but there may soon be many safeguards against everything from simple errors to an unconscious crew.