When we think about safety in aviation, most people think about safety in the air. While being safe in the air is important, it is only part of the overall safety picture. The FAA often talks about Runway Safety as a hot button issue, but it really goes beyond just safety on the runway. It is important that we work to improve our knowledge and skills to be safer on the ground in all operations.
Outside the Airplane
When walking to or from the aircraft, it is important to maintain a vigilant awareness of your surroundings. This is not the time to be texting or talking on your cell phone or listening to your favorite content via ear buds. Your head and eyes should be moving and keeping track of the ramp area around you. You should be listening for other pilots yelling “clear”, the sound of running engines, or the engagement of a starter.
Walk with some distance between you and even stationary propellers or tail rotors. If they are rotating, consider a different path or ensure eye contact with the pilot at the controls before crossing where he or she could be moving. Give yourself an out in the event that an aircraft is started or begins to move unexpectedly.
Moving propellers aren’t the only hazard on the ramp, but they are one of the most dangerous. You should also be on the lookout for tripping hazards such as tie down anchors, tie down ropes/chains/cables, tow bars, fuel drain cans, chocks, ladders, or any other item that might be left on the ramp for your convenience.
Inside the Airplane
Flight deck vigilance is a key component in ground safety. As you are performing your pre-start checks, be sure to keep a watchful eye on the activities around your airplane. When you are ready to start your engine, visually clear the area, yell “clear” out the window, pause a few seconds to visually clear the area again, then proceed with your starting sequence. After start, continue monitoring the area as you complete your other checklist items and program your avionics.
Part of your before flight planning should have included a review of the airport and your anticipated taxi route to the runway. Have this planning available before you begin to taxi the airplane. You should also have an airport diagram in front of you for more complex or less familiar airport environments. Many of the electronic flight bag apps for your iPad or Android tablet are capable of putting your own ship position on this diagram. This can be a great help.
Utilize your aircraft lights to make yourself more visible throughout this process as recommended by the FAA in AC 91-73 – Parts 91 and 135 Single Pilot, Flight School Procedures During Taxi Operations.
When you are ready to release the brakes and begin taxiing to the runway, stop and look around once again before brake release. While taxiing in parking and ramp areas, use a fast walk as your speed limit and maintain your vigilance for people and other aircraft. Upon clearing these areas, you can pick up the pace a bit but be sure to keep the speed reasonable. Don’t forget about crosswind corrections during all of your ground operations.
If you are operating at a tower-controlled airport, be sure to follow the appropriate radio procedures and ATC clearance requirements as described in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). Ensure that you know and understand the airport signs, markings, and lighting found in the AIM.
While you are en route to your destination, you should have some time to review the process for your destination airport. You will follow a similar routine there but in a reverse order.
Training Tools and Resources
This website, Student Pilot News, has a number of articles, videos, and quizzes available to help improve your runway safety knowledge. Use the search bar to find content of interest.
The FAA has a website dedicated to Runway Safety with a whole host of resources for staying safe on the ground. These include links to other websites & resources, “From the Flight Deck Hazards and Hot Spots” Videos and Animations, and a number of other publications worth reviewing.
The FAA recently released their newest animation to the Runway Safety Pilot Simulator. This latest animation stresses the importance of saying “unable” when pilots are not ready or able to accept a clearance from ATC. Several other useful training scenarios and videos may also be found on this site. You can also earn WINGS credit through the material on the Runway Safety Pilot Simulator site.
Speaking of WINGS credit, search for runway safety in the courses on FAASafety.gov. Please note that this site is expected to be updated in the near future. Its current search function has some limitations in that may return each page of a course on runway safety. Click on one of the links and then move to the beginning where you can enroll in the course.
Taxi, fly, and stay safe!