Prepare to be Aware – #4 of the Big 5

The lack of awareness continues to be a source of problems when aircraft move on the ground. Not too long ago, you would not find runway incursions listed as an accident category, but it is just as easy to get lost on the ground as it is in the air…

The rule among pilots must be that heightened awareness begins the moment the airplane is untied or pulled from the hangar. Today, runway incursions have made a firm showing on the list of the Big 5. Have a look at these first hand accounts of the dangerous problems that can find pilots on today’s runways.

Lost, Leading To An Incursion
NASA Number: 460250

There was not much traffic on the ground control frequency, and I asked to taxi for departure. My position was on the northern FBO ramp. The controller advised me to taxi to runway 35 via the taxiway, onto runway 17, then back taxi to runway 35, and hold short of runway 26, and to contact the tower for further taxi on runway 17. I had been to this airport about a month before and so I glanced at the airport diagram on my commercial chart to identify the taxiway that would start me on my way. I also at this time looked for a parallel taxiway to runway 35, but there is none.

As I came up to runway 17, and made the left turn to begin my back taxi, I observed a military aircraft rolling out on a runway (it was runway 3). I made a mental note of the runway I was to hold short of, and I continued my taxi. I then switched to the tower frequency. About the same time that I switched, I looked out my left window and saw a Bonanza right over my head with landing gear in the well. My first thought was: “that’s strange, they let an aircraft depart over me while I was taxiing.” My next thought was the realization of what I had done.

The local controller then called and inquired in a demanding way, “weren’t you told to hold short of runway 26?” I admitted to him that I was told that, but that the aircraft downfield had confused me and I thought that was the runway I was to hold short of (runway 26 in my mind, was actually runway 3). Of course my mind was now a blur. I could not believe what I had just done. The departing Bonanza did not report anything to the tower, so I assume that he rotated about 1500 feet away and did not see me. He crossed over me at about 50 to 75 feet and his departure profile seemed normal.

When the tower released him, there was no disturbance in his voice or questions about what had just happened. I think he was totally oblivious to the incident. I was asked to go to a discrete frequency where all my pilot data was collected. I then collected myself and resumed the flight. The Bonanza had departed from my blind spot in the cockpit and I was totally surprised at a threat coming from that area.

PROBLEM: Every airport and every flight is different. No pilot should rely on the routine of the past to predict the future.

SOLUTION: Whenever you are not sure of a taxi clearance or are unfamiliar with the surroundings, you can ask for “progressive taxi instructions.” This means that the controller will relay your instructions as you proceed. This can cut down on misunderstandings about the location of turns and where you should stop.

Distraction, Leading To An Incursion.
NASA Number: 460325

I am a student pilot. I flew to the practice area for maneuvers, and then I headed back to the airport with the intention of practicing touch-and-go landings. I radioed the airport on the control tower frequency of 126.00. I had just finished my descent to pattern altitude on the left downwind for runway 27, when suddenly I encountered strong turbulence. My head slammed up against the ceiling, which knocked my headset partly off. This happened even though I had my shoulder harness and lap belt fastened low and tight. I recovered quickly and returned the airplane to straight and level flight. The turbulence subsided. At that point, I noticed an emergency alarm sounding in my ears.

I immediately thought that my airplane’s ELT must have been activated by the turbulence. Although the alarm was loud and interfering, I was able to maintain radio communications with the tower. I received landing instructions. Tower communications were busy and I decided not to take time to make any comment concerning the ELT. After touchdown, I exited runway 27 at the very first intersection. I stopped the airplane and completed my after landing checklist.

The ELT alarm was sounding much louder in my ears after I got on the ground, and I could not seem to hear any radio communications. I decided to switch to ground control frequency 121.7, hoping that I could get taxi instructions. The ELT was now even louder in my ears. I made two transmissions attempting to get taxi instructions. I could not hear any coherent responses to my communications other than a low static rumbling and an occasional broken word or two in the background.

I decided that the situation was unsafe, and that I should take some action to clear the area. I began to taxi. I then heard some broken words under the ELT alarm sound. I stopped the airplane and transmitted again on 121.7, saying I was unable to copy any voice transmissions. I realize now that I should not have taxied without clearly understanding instructions.

I was concerned that my presence at the airport with an active ELT constituted a danger to others. The main thought in my mind is that I should taxi back to the FBO so someone could deactivate the ELT transmitter. I taxied to the hold short line of runway 1/19 and looked for traffic. I saw no traffic, so I taxied across runway 1/19 and continued towards runway 14/32. At that point, an airport safety vehicle suddenly appeared on my left wing tip with flashing lights. I also heard the first clear radio transmission since I had landed with a voice saying clearing above the sound of the ELT, “stop the airplane!”

The safety vehicle pulled in front of me, waving with a gesture that said, “follow me.” I followed the vehicle across runway 14/32. At that point I was directed to the FBO. I now understand that a small airplane parked on a wide taxiway does not constitute nearly so great a danger as the same small airplane if it taxies without proper clearance.

THE BOTTOM LINE: When in doubt while on the ground at a controlled field – stop. Don’t stop on a runway, of course, but it is better to hold your position than to move about unsure of what to do. Strategy: Study airport diagrams before engine start up and review airport markings. Also, brush up on your light gun signals. This pilot could have received direction via light gun signals when it became hard to communicate on the radio.