It’s dawn at a nontowered airport as two early-rising pilots prepare for their flights. Both have checked the windsock and plan to depart on Runway 32—but that’s where the similarities of their departure methods end.
Compare what happens next. The first pilot fires up and taxis out. A few minutes later, a takeoff announcement is heard on the common traffic advisory frequency and the airplane is seen climbing to the northwest.
Airports are communities of aviators, and the student pilot has been taught that the local helicopter enterprise frequently uses the parallel taxiway for its operations. Safety for all is enhanced by reporting the taxiing airplane’s location and intended movement.
Studying the airport’s image, notice that eventually the taxiing airplane will reach the spot where the parallel taxiway leading to Runway 32 crosses the northeast edge of Runway 7/25. Although the Runway 25 threshold is displaced about 300 feet beyond where the taxiway crosses, the student pilot nonetheless comes to a full stop, scans carefully in both directions, and broadcasts intention to cross Runway 25, before proceeding across.
I observed this safety-first operation on a recent visit to the airport and was impressed with its practicality.
Don’t underestimate the risk of runway incursions at nontowered airports. Had this been a towered airport, taxi clearances would specify how to proceed on this taxi route, as summarized on page 14-33 of the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge: Air traffic control “is required to issue explicit instructions to ‘cross’ or ‘hold short’ of each runway. Instructions to ‘cross’ a runway are normally issued one at a time, and an aircraft must have crossed the previous runway before another runway crossing is issued.”
ATC expects you to read back runway hold-short instructions. “Therefore, you must read back the entire clearance and ‘hold short’ instruction, to include runway identifier and your call sign,” the chapter notes.
The great care practiced by pilots and controllers at towered airports should motivate you to take equivalent precautions when operating in a less-structured airport environment. Knowing that the uncommunicative pilot who was the day’s first departure hasn’t returned to land yet should stand as sufficient reminder to stay alert.