Getting an aircraft to and from the runway is the easiest part of flying, right? Perhaps not. Many pilots seem to think that a flight begins with the takeoff and ends after a successful landing. However, ground operations certainly cause their share of problems. Whilst some taxi accidents are unavoidable, the majority fall into categories that can only be attributed to pilot error.

Wind

Wind, both steady and gusting, accounts for around 20% of taxi-related incidents a year, often when the aircraft is struck by a wind that sends it rushing off the taxiway, or causes it to drop a wing onto the ground.

The highest risk of wind-related incidents occurs when landing into a strong headwind. As the aircraft exits the runway, this headwind usually becomes a crosswind and it must be accounted for even at this late stage of the flight. Ensuring that controls are placed into wind whilst taxiing is crucial to avoid losing control of the aircraft.

Ground Obstructions

Incidents often occur due to collisions with ground obstructions such as buildings, poles, fences, trucks and other parked aircraft.

Usually, these incidents occur during night operations on dark aprons when an aircraft collides with an unseen object. But these accidents also happen in daylight, either due to a misjudged wingtip clearance or focusing on an obstruction on one side of the aircraft and forgetting to check the other.

Taxi Speed

Once in the air, most aircraft are built to go as fast as possible, but this not the case on the ground. Making a turn at high a speed can result in the aircraft tipping over!

After flying at 100 knots, the “walking pace” taxi to the parking area can certainly test anyone’s patience – especially if faced with a passenger who’s eager to find a bathroom or a charter client who is late for a meeting. Keep in mind that aircraft are optimised for travelling in the air, not the ground, and should be treated as such.

Speed should be no more than walking pace and often slower when taxiing through tight gaps, or around obstructions or other aircraft – stationary or not. If there is any doubt about if the wings are clear or not, slow down to ensure stopping quickly is possible if necessary.

Taxiing is usually considered the least demanding part of a flight, a fact that leads many pilots to let their attention wander or to attempt to multitask on their way to the runway. This complacency can lead to severe consequences. An instructor getting out of the aircraft and walking into a spinning prop. A pilot who starts the engine and keeps their head in the cockpit to work radios or fold charts while the aircraft rolls out of control.

Ensure that whilst taxiing your attention is as focused on one task as it would be whilst in the air.

Remember – It’s not over until the prop stops spinning!