March 31, 2008
Most of us taxied an airplane on our very first flying lesson. After a period when we learned part of what our feet do in airplanes (a much longer lesson in tailwheel aircraft), taxiing became second nature, quickly becoming an assumed part of our aeronautical skill set and falling out of the lesson plan and preflight briefings. And yet, the U.S. Congress held hearings in mid-February 2008 asking the FAA and industry leaders to address this seemingly basic task, taxiing an airplane.
More to the point, Congress is concerned about the danger of runway incursion: Taxiing onto a runway without clearance, and presenting a collision hazard. Perhaps the very fact that taxiing is learned almost in the prehistory of our pilot certificates creates a complacency that makes runway incursions more likely.
As reported by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, "In September 2007 the FAA released its Runway Safety Report, examining runway incursions at towered airports between 2003 and 2006. The report found that 72 percent of all runway incursions (937 of 1306) involved a general aviation aircraft, but that general aviation (GA) only accounted for 55 percent of National Airspace System (NAS) activity. However, only 44 percent (580 of the 1306) of all incursions were pilot deviations involving a GA aircraft. And, of those 580 pilot deviations, the FAA classified 92 percent as less severe. The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) Aviation Runway and Ramp Safety report notes that preliminary data for 2007 indicate a disturbing upward trend."
Unlike runway incursions, taxi accidents are rarely injurious but are fairly common and costly to airplane owners. Collisions with taxiway signs and other obstacles usually result from the same complacency and distractions that lead to runway incursions; from a training standpoint, they're part of the same problem.
In the Congressional hearings, AOPA president Phil Boyer "... called on the FAA to make runway safety a national priority." As a result, the FAA enacted a requirement for all Part 121 (air carrier) pilots to take additional training on runway safety.
But airline pilots aren't the only ones needing to review taxiing safety. Under the aegis of the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam), FAA published Pilot and Aircrew Procedures During Taxi Operations (640 KB Adobe PDF file) and emailed a link to all pilots with a FAASTeam email account. This two-page document is a quick-reference guide containing recommendations for reducing the chances of a runway incursion. The second page is an illustrated primer on ATC light-gun signals. The Procedures are sized to fit in a standard Jeppesen binder, the idea being they can be referenced easily in the cockpit. Emphasis is on techniques for increasing an aircrew's awareness of where their aircraft is on an air carrier airport; but as that suggests, many of the recommendations are designed for a two-pilot crew, and almost all are predicated on operation at a tower-controlled airport with ground control.
Most of us in GA fly single-pilot. And many airline pilots fly single-pilot on their days off. I've taken the liberty of "translating" the FAASTeam guide for the single-pilot cockpit: one version for tower-controlled airports, the other for non-towered airports. In addition to preventing runway incursions, these guides are designed to help pilots avoid taxiing into obstacles and to improve safety at non-towered airports where pilots assume total responsibility for collision avoidance. Instructors: You might use these educational references with your students and when giving flight reviews.
My translations do not include the FAASTeam page on light-gun signals; see page 2 of the FAA document for this excellent pictorial.
First, here's the version for tower-controlled airports (click the graphics for larger versions):
And here's the version for operations at non-tower ("uncontrolled," although I prefer the term "pilot-controlled") airports:
You can also download printable versions of the tower and nontower versions, which are Adobe PDF files of about 50-KB size.
The common theme to all three versions is:
- Plan ahead;
- Avoid distractions;
- When in motion, keep your eyes outside; and
- If you have questions, ask.
There are several more products available to improve taxi safety and reduce the chances of runway incursions. Among them is AOPA's Air Safety Foundation posts Runway Safety, a free, interactive on-line course that includes techniques and advice for taxiing safely and avoiding runway incursions. Sporty's Pilot Shop sells a high-quality Pilots Guide to Runway Safety DVD.
Taxiing into obstructions causes damage, expense and inconvenience. Runway incursions can be deadly. The FAA, AOPA and others have made taxi safety a national priority. Use these guides to taxi safely.
Fly safe and have fun!
Thomas P. Turner's Leading Edge columns are collected here.