Someone, somewhere said “It’s not over ‘till its over.” Sometimes it doesn’t even get started.
Taxi accidents appear to be on the upswing. Flying an aircraft doesn’t start on take off and end on landing. It starts with the pre-flight planning walk around and ends after the aircraft has been secured.
A Beech 200 King Air was being taxied to be refuelled when the left wingtip hit the refuelling building. The wingtip light lens got broken.
A Cessna C-172 collided with a stop sign while taxiing for run-up at the holding bay. Minor damage was reported.
A Cessna C-310 taxied off the gravel runway and struck a double set of taxiway lights near the ramp. A propeller was damaged.
A Beech 100 King Air was taxiing toward a cargo ramp when the pilot noticed a tug moving from his left side. The pilot stopped the aircraft and watched the tug driver cross in from of him. The tug driver was talking on a radio or cell phone and didn’t look either right or left as he went by the entrance/exit to the cargo ramp.
A Cessna C-150 pilot was issued taxi instructions from the apron to the holding bay for runway 03 via taxiway Delta, cross runway 15, taxiway Charley and taxiway Alpha. A Piper Warrior PA-28-161 pilot was issued taxi instructions from the apron to the holding bay for runway 03 via Alpha taxiway to hold short of runway 33. He was subsequently instructed to cross runway 33 on taxiway Alpha and follow the C-150 southbound on taxiway Charley for runway 03. The pilot acknowledged the instructions.
The two aircraft collided at the intersection of Alpha and Charley. The left wing of the C-150 contacted the propeller of the PA 28 and the right wing of the PA 28 hit the fuselage of the C-150.
Buildings, stop signs, and other aircraft are usually easy to see. There really isn’t any excuse for hitting one. Taxiway lights are a lot smaller, but if we are taxiing in the centre of the taxiways and not carelessly cutting corners, we should not be hitting them either.
Busy commercial pilots making multiple stops tend to taxi fast. The faster we taxi, the less time we have for making judgments in tight areas. Private pilots can get into a hurry as well. This may have been the reason the C-172 pilot hit the stop sign. We cannot turn as tight if we are traveling fast. Inattention may also have been the reason.
We don’t know why the C-310 pilot hit the taxiway lights. Reasons (excuses) could be distraction, lack of attention, speed, or cutting the corner.
Why didn’t the C-150 and PA 28 pilots see each other? The PA 28 pilot heard and acknowledged that he was to follow the C-150 on taxiway Charley. The C-150 pilot would have heard the radio exchange between the ground controller and the PA 28 pilot. They were both inattentive while taxiing. It is possible they were both distracted by other tasks while taxiing.
We have a tendency to complete pre-take-off checks, set up our GPS, review a map or departure procedures and talk to passengers while taxiing.
If the other tasks we are doing are taking up all of our attention, we should not be doing them. Ramps and taxiways are often busy places and there are very few rules. We must expect the unexpected.
People, especially passengers not used to aircraft, may dart out from between aircraft. Other pilots driving their vehicles, motorcycles or bicycles on the ramp may not be paying adequate attention.
One of the few rules we have is that aircraft have the right-of-way. Don’t count on it. The Beech 100 pilot was paying attention. The tug driver was not.
Busy maintenance people tow aircraft around the ramp. They may not always have an adequate lookout. They cannot stop quickly with an aircraft under tow either.
Fuel truck drivers intent on keeping up with their work load may be traveling fast on a ramp and may not be watching as closely as they should, and they may be distracted by their dispatch with other instructions.
Even on quiet ramps we can get into trouble. We get complacent as there is seldom anyone else around.
So, as usual the onus is on us. Remember the saying about exams and responsibilities. If one of the answers is the pilot, the correct answer is the pilot.
There are ways we can help ourselves avoid taxi accidents. We should always check our brakes at the commencement of the taxi. We rely more on them for taxi than we do for landing.
Taxi slowly. We must be prepared to stop the aircraft quickly at any time.
We must always give ourselves adequate room to turn. The wings take a lot of room. The wings may clear objects the tail may not.
We should treat every entrance to a ramp or taxiway, and every intersection of taxiways, as uncontrolled intersections. That is what they are. Look before entering.
Many commercial operators have a standard operating procedure that each pilot must check and announce that their side is clear of traffic before the aircraft can proceed onto a ramp, through a taxiway or onto a runway. This is a procedure we can all adopt.
When approaching a taxiway or ramp, we must stop all other tasks and look out.
Ground controllers are very good at pointing out other traffic, but they cannot be expected to tell us everything. They may not know everything. They only know what we tell them our intentions are and they do not control ramps. We are completely on our own there.
If we add in winter conditions, low light, low visibility, or night to the mix, we must really pay attention. Taxiing is not a time to get complacent and let our guard down. Accidents can happen just as easily on the ground as in the air.
Dale Nielsen is an ex-Armed Forces pilot and aerial photography pilot. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C., and currently flies air charters. He still freelances as a flying instructor and seminar facilitator. Nielsen is also the author of seven flight training manuals published by Canuck West Holdings.
Got an aviation safety story to tell? Dale Nielsen would like to hear from pilots who have educational aviation experiences to relate. Excerpts from these stories will be used in upcoming safety articles. Dale can be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org