Unless you’re filming a live-action movie, you don’t need to worry about dodging chickens shot across your windscreen or avoiding a piano on the taxiway that’s tossed out of a helicopter. All you need to worry about is keeping your cool while you taxi around the airport surface and take note of any noted hot spots.
An airport surface hot spot is a location on an airport movement area with a history or potential risk of collision or runway incursion where heightened attention by pilots and ground vehicle drivers is necessary.
Any occurrence at an airport involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle, or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft. Most runway incursions are caused by general aviation pilots.
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All too often at airports in the national airspace system, pilots fail to hold short of or they cross active runways when they are instructed to taxi to a runway or a specific spot on the airport. Whether the runway is active or not, a specific clearance is required to cross any runway. A clearance to taxi to a runway is not a clearance to taxi onto that runway. Pilots have failed to hold short of a runway after receiving, and in some cases, after correctly reading back hold-short instructions from the tower. Pilots have also crossed hold-short lines, and held short of the white runway edge markings. While the aircraft may not be on the runway itself, it is still within the runway safety area intended to protect aircraft taking off or landing on that runway.
Another common runway incursion happens when a pilot is issued a clearance to taxi to a specific runway but doesn’t understand that this clearance does not authorize them to cross any other runway encountered on the way to that assigned runway. When the tower issues a taxi clearance, they will first state the runway assignment followed by the detailed taxi route. It’s important to listen carefully for any runway hold-short instructions.
Make sure you read back all hold-short instructions with your call sign. If you omit this, the tower will ask you for the runway hold-short read-back. Remember that you are not authorized to cross any runway enroute to your destination runway, even if it is inactive, unless you’ve received a clearance to do so.
The word “roger” is not a clearance; it is simply an acknowledgment of your last transmission.
It’s important for pilots to understand the various taxiway signage and markings and actively scan for them. Many airports across the country have installed above ground signage including runway guard lights and enhanced taxiway centerline markings. However, these helpful tools won’t do any good if the pilot is rushed or preoccupied with head-down tasks within the cockpit and don’t see the signs. This sort of error could lead to a go-around for landing traffic or an aborted takeoff for departing traffic. At worst, this could lead to a collision.
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Pilots can avoid making costly mistakes on the airport surface by following these tips and best practices:
🛩️ Review your received taxi clearance on the airport diagram or moving map display before you taxi.
🛩️ Verify turns, runways to cross, and your clearance limit.
🛩️ During taxi and approaching a runway crossing ask yourself: Am I cleared to cross? Verify with the tower before you cross a runway hold-short line.
🛩️ Actively scan and identify the various runway signs, markings, and lighting to confirm if you’re approaching or at the correct location that was cleared by the tower.
🛩️ Defer all head-down activities until holding short at the appropriate location.
🛩️ If there’s any doubt in your mind about any clearance, ask the tower.
🛩️ If you are ever in doubt as to your position on the airport or your taxi clearance, don’t be afraid to stop where you are and ask the tower for progressive taxi instructions.
Avoiding dangerous mistakes like crossing or entering a runway without clearance makes flying more efficient, fun, and above all, safe.
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It’s vital to know where the hot spots are before you go to any airport — even if you have been there before. Check the current airport diagram for any hot spot designations.
In an enhancement initiative by the FAA’s Runway Safety Group (RSG), hot spot depictions will become standardized in the symbology used on airport diagrams. The many shapes currently used will be morphed into circles or ellipses for surface safety risk areas like taxiway/runway configurations and intersections. A cylinder will be used to highlight wrong surface event risk areas such as offset parallel runways, a nemesis for general aviation pilots. The RSG is also working collaboratively with agency and industry stakeholders on the development of a visual enhancement tool to help pilots with runway confusion at certain airport locations. Stay tuned.
You have the same responsibility piloting your aircraft on the ground, as in the air. Think of surface safety as a fourth phase of “flight,” and live to fly another day.
Editor’s Note: The quotes in this article are from the 1993 action/comedy film Hot Shots! Part Deux.
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran, and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.