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Exercising Safety at a Controlled Airport

Controlled airports are busy. Whether or nor we often fly into controlled airports, we tend to rely on the controller to provide step-by-step directions. While it is important to listen to the controller, it is also important to know your airport environment and to verify the controller’s instructions. Let’s look at a few ways we can exercise safety at controlled airports.

If you have looked at airport diagrams recently, you may have noticed labels such as HS1, HS2, etc. Over the last several years, the FAA has taken big steps toward reducing runway incursions. One main focus is identifying and displaying “hot spots” on airport diagrams. According to the FAA, “a hot spot is defined as a location on an airport movement area with a history of potential risk of collision or runway incursion, and where heightened attention by pilots and drivers is necessary.” Nearby airports such as Kalamazoo, Detroit, and Columbus have multiple hot spots. You can find details on the hot spots in your current Airport Facilities Directory or online. Foreflight also gives you this information on your iPad under the Procedures tab for the airport.

Getting “lost” while taxiing is never a pleasurable experience, so when ground control gives you a taxi clearance, write it down and know where you are going before you start moving. I also use Foreflight’s airport diagrams with GPS positioning while taxiing. The little blue airplane depicting my location is very helpful when things get a little confusing. Make sure you taxi slowly and read the taxi signs carefully. Look ahead for those yellow signs that give you directions. Remember “Yellow array points the way. Black square, you’re there.” You can always ask ground control for “progressive taxi.” Where, as long as they have time, ground control tells you when a turn is coming up, when to turn, and directs you to wherever you are going.

A good rule of thumb is to trust your controller, but verify that the path is clear. If a controller tells you to cross a runway, look both ways before entering the runway. If a controller says something that doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification. Also, be especially wary when the controllers switch shifts. Once, during my training in Texas, I was doing pattern work when the tower switched controllers. The second controller didn’t realize there was a Citation on short final, so he cleared a twin Cessna to depart. The twin Cessna, trusting the controller, pulled right out in front of the Citation, forcing the Citation to go-around. If the twin would have looked to make sure final was clear, he would have seen the jet on short final and avoided this embarrassing and unsafe near collision.

In short, you should always study your airport diagrams; know your taxiways and hot spots; taxi slowly; read your airport signs; understand what the controller is telling you (even if you have to ask twice), and verify the tower’s instructions are leading you into a clear path.