The taxi run-in between an Air France A380, the largest passenger airplane in the world, and a regional jet at JFK the other night should remind us all how easy it is to bend some metal when all you’re trying to do is get to the departure end of the runway. These taxi surprises of the worst kind seldom result in injuries, but ask any aviation insurance underwriter or A380 captain and they’ll tell you that the cost in euros and cents can be very high. With a little thought, though, you can cut your chances of being a taxi statistic to next to nothing.
● Know where you’re going. Have a taxi diagram handy at all times, and use it. Write down your taxi clearance. Ground control probably isn’t going to send you down any blind alleys. That said, they can only tell you where to taxi; getting there is your job.
● Toe the line. Plant your nosewheel (or tailwheel) on the centerline and keep it there. This doesn’t guarantee you clearance from obstacles, but for pilots of airplanes with modest wingspans, it’s nearly a sure bet. Still, watch out for snow banks. They can do great damage.
● At night, practice extreme caution. No surprise, recent studies have shown that the darkness makes it hard to see. Slow down, ask for guidance, use a diagram. Nighttime equals added risk.
● Know your airplane. Get a feel for how much room your wingtips take. The six-foot difference between a DA42 and a C182 can be the difference between making it through barely and writing some big checks.
● Err on the side of caution. Don’t think you’re going to make it through. Stop. Reevaluate. Ask for help from a spotter. Get out of the airplane, if need be, and check. Stopping your taxi might cost you a few minutes, but it beats the alternative by a lot.
● Make a turn, look around. Every time the scenery changes, you run the chance of meeting new obstacles. Are there hangars? Rows of tied-down airplanes? Airport vehicles? Snow banks? All can do damage to your airplane. Be vigilant.
● Go slow, especially when it’s crowded. It’s an important general safety tip, but remember, the slower you go, the more time you have to scope things out and to get stopped if you need to. When it comes to taxiing on a busy ramp or around obstacles, the best rule is, don’t hurry.
Not everybody has a few hundred feet of wingspan to worry about, but we all have to pay the Piper if we crunch our Comanche. Taking it slow and paying careful attention to where we go and what obstacles are present is a great way to make sure you get to where you’re going with all of your strobes and tips tanks intact.