Taxi for Take-Off!

Taxi Diagram

The taxi phase of flight operations has historically been a largely unscrutinized procedure, with the major focus (unfortunately) being on the impending flight. "Get some radio OK and go" and setting up the gyros and radios while taxiing. This sloppy method has led to many runway incursions and taxi violations with airplanes coming together in some fiery wrecks. A more carefully prepared and thoughtful operation would be as essential to safety and laid out here.

First, know what the various location and directions signs mean. These have become very standardized. This tutorial is excellent. This FAA course is also very good. Second, come prepared with a taxi diagram even at a simple airport like Ithaca. Next monitor and record the current ATIS (125.175) When you call for taxi the controller will give you the exact route to the runway with named taxiways in sequential order: "Taxi to Runway 32 via Delta and Alpha taxiways." Your radio call should be in the standard format: Who you are calling and who you are (aircraft type and N number), followed by where your are on the airport, your request and your ultimate intentions (what you want): "Cherokee 27214, north ramp, request taxi, departing northeast to Syracuse, with information Juliet." This simple yet comprehensive call up allows the controller not only to visualize the best route for you to the runway and issue appropriate instructions, but allows him to start working on a plan for your departure out of the airspace. You should obviously maintain a "sterile cockpit" with attention to the job of taxiing and a listening watch on the ground frequency at Ithaca 121.80 while getting to the runway.

"Hold Short"

Taxi Signs

Here is where your taxi diagram will help immensely. Some airports have a nest of signs and arrows pointing everywhere. The taxi diagram, much like your sectional chart, will provide an overview of the route assigned and make sense of the ground controllers instructions. You can even sketch out the taxi route assigned, again like a chart, to insure you follow the route accurately. If you get confused, don't blunder on and assume you know the way, please get clarification from the ground controller (never "assume"). Believe me, we would much rather spend a bit of air time clarifying the situation rather than having you blunder onto an active runway!

One over-riding bit of guidance: all taxi markings will be yellow lines and signs with black accents. If you find the signs are red, this is "restrictive" or indicates further clearance is necessary and you should stop immediately unless specifically cleared further. If you find you are over the line in a runway area please inform the tower immediately so they can assure separation with runway traffic. Again, this course and this web site are very useful.

Hold Short Sign

Here is an example of the runway holding position. This set of lines painted on the taxiway provides separation from the taxi areas and the runway and is co-located with the red sign below. As mentioned above the red color indicates that you should stop and "HOLD SHORT" of the runway here. Your clearance to "taxi to runway XX" means you can proceed by the route assigned all the way to the active runway (crossing all other runways but not the active) but then hold short of the double solid lines.

The top side of this surface indicator, with the dashed lines is on the runway side. After landing you should taxi from the runway at the first available taxiway and "dash across" or taxi clear of the runway even without a clearance. Hold over this set of double lines and stay with tower frequency for further instructions.

Red Holding Sign

This sign will appear in conjunction with the double lines above. If you have been taxiing with yellow and black signs this should get your attention and clearly shout "runway!" The double lines, with the solid on your side are telling you to "stop here and hold short." This would indicate an intersection hold since both numbers are on the sign. If you were at the end only the runway you were entering would be depicted.

One very important point with holding positions: If the controller instructs you to "hold short" due to a delay (landing traffic or someone still on the runway) YOU MUST read back that instruction " hold short" so we know that you clearly heard this instruction. Imagine us in the tower watching you down at the end of the runway with a Boeing on final and not knowing if you clearly understood the need to hold short! Please read back clearly "HOLD SHORT."

All the signs in positionsHere is a sample layout as it might be found at a larger airport showing the orientation of the signs and lines. Having a diagram to guide you through this maze would be essential. There are historically dangerous or confusing places on every airport called "hot spots" that you can find on other industry products. These are where other pilots have made mistakes and you should be especially vigilant.

The good news is that with a basic understanding of the signs and standard phraseology, taxiing is not at all difficult. It is however essential to devote your entire attention to this job and maintain a "sterile cockpit environment" rather than setting up charts and radios for the flight. All this should be arranged before taxi or when safely stopped in a holding position.

Good Advice from another Tower