February 1, 2009
Every aircraft, from the supersonic stealthy sled to the general aviation family flier, starts its aviation day by taxiing.
Proficient pilots fly their aircraft from engine startup until engine shutdown. Good taxi technique can be just as important a skill as any in-flight maneuver, and is your first chance to impress your passengers with your professional, safe-flying mindset. You will never be as close to other aircraft with as much potential for a collision as you are when you are taxiing.
The cost of fuel has made it more important to plan your taxi to and from the runway more carefully. Fuel burn on the ground not only raises your operating costs, it also wastes valuable potential engine operating time that you can make better use of in the air.
Do you remember the old saying: “There are three things a pilot can’t use—air above you, runway behind you, and fuel left on the ground?” Fuel burned during taxi is equal to fuel left on the ground, and excess fuel burned during the taxi after landing is simply added expense.
Even though both you and the ground controller expect you to “taxi smartly” to the active, go easy on the breakaway power you use to get out of your parking spot. Too great a push on the throttle not only burns more fuel and has the potential to hurt other people or aircraft on the ramp; it also increases your chance of damaging your prop and startling those passengers who were beginning to enjoy a quieter cabin.
A gentle touch of the brakes will reassure you that they are working, and then you are off in search of the active runway and the miracle of flight.
Airport markings and signs have been the same for some time now, but it never hurts to review them. The important thing with any airport marking and sign is that, if you don’t understand what it is telling you, stop and ask somebody before you continue into a potentially unsafe situation. Towered airports give you the luxury of asking ground control for answers and advice. Nontowered airports give you the luxury of time to figure out the simpler airport layouts and to negotiate them with fewer potential traffic conflicts.
Talking to yourself helps at both kinds of airports. There is nothing wrong with telling yourself, “OK, I’m going to hold short of 18 Left on Alpha,” even if you are all alone in the airplane.
From your first flying lesson until today, people have been telling you to stay on the centerline when you taxi, take off, and land. Good advice—unless you are taxiing behind a heavy aircraft. If you need to get off of the centerline to avoid jet or prop blast, move to the upwind side of the stuff. Also keep the jet and prop blast in mind when the ground controller asks you to “move it up a little tighter” to give him or her more available taxiway space. The best kind of taxi operation is one that nobody remembers because it was routine. All of our taxi-ins and -outs should be totally forgettable events.
Kevin Garrison is a freelance writer from Lexington, Kentucky, with more than 20,000 hours in 36 years of flying.
To reduce runway incursions and improve surface navigation, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, in conjunction with the FAA Runway Safety Program, provides airport taxi diagrams for the busiest U.S. towered airports online. Diagrams are updated regularly. ASF also offers its Operations at Towered Airports Safety Advisor, which depicts samples of commonly found airport and taxiway signage. In addition, ASF produces runway safety flash cards—the front of each card depicts an airport sign or pavement marking, while the back provides a description and information on the required pilot action.
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