Taxi Practices and Safety
By Robert Wright, for Light Plane World
The airplane’s natural environment is in the air. In that element it is graceful and maneuverable – a thing of beauty. On the ground it is ungainly, difficult to maneuver, and has a propensity for coming to rest against other objects, thereby becoming ugly and loved only by an insurance adjuster. As a result, most primary flight instructors teach some basic taxi rules.
Complete all of the pre-taxi checks before starting the taxi. Slow speed taxi no more than a fast walk with correct aileron and elevator position for the wind. Absolutely no programming of the GPS or other programmable device or fiddling with the radios, charts, etc, while the aircraft is moving on the ramp or taxiway. Of equal importance is coming to a complete stop after leaving the runway to complete the after-landing cleanup as well as any reprogramming of boxes. “Head out of the cockpit” is as important on the ground as in the air.
There is another safety practice, recommended by the AIM, which is too often ignored at most nontowered airports. This is the pre-taxi call stating who you are, where you are on the airport, and where you are going. (See AIM, 4-1-9 Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers, Table 4-1-1.)
The lack of compliance with this recommendation, combined with the too frequent lack of compliance with the other recommended taxi practices mentioned above, can cause expensive preventable taxi accidents. Not long ago, I watched an aircraft at a large nontowered airport proceeding along a taxiway past row upon row of parked aircraft when out from a row of parked planes came the local Mario Andretti taxiing far faster than prudence would recommend. The result was two sets of squeaking brakes and two hearts fluttering – all of which were unnecessary.
Similarly at my home airport, we have multiple long rows of T-hangars with taxiways in between intersecting the main runway taxiway. Aircraft leaving the hangars aren’t visible until they emerge from behind the hangars, potentially conflicting with aircraft coming down the runway taxiway. I have seen several close calls when appropriate taxi speed wasn’t observed on the part of one or both conflicting aircraft and no taxi call was made.
The problem is threefold. First, one or both of the taxiing airplanes may not make a call. Second, even if one does make a call, these calls are so infrequently made that the other taxiing pilot either isn’t listening for it, or if heard, it doesn’t register. Third, combine this with high-speed taxi and all heads in the cockpit reprogramming a box, and there is going to be work for the insurance adjuster.
Students need always to be reminded that the flight isn’t over until the aircraft is shut down and tied down. When the ground-bound ungainly machine is moving, it needs and deserves the pilot’s complete attention to the surrounding environment and its hazards.
It is always a shame when it comes to rest against another object and never makes it to its natural environment.
Robert Wright is a CFI at Chesapeake Sport Pilot, located at Bay Bridge Airport, Stevensville, Maryland. Photo courtesy Karen Helfert.