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The Most Important Sign At The Airport

The Most Important Sign At The Airport

  • March
  • 07
  • 2017
  • Phil Taylor

The FAA recently released an updated version of the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK) and there have been some changes that are worth noting.

What was formerly an entire 24-page PHAK Appendix devoted to Runway Incursion Avoidance in the last issue has been compressed to 6 pages in Chapter 14, Airport Operations in the latest PHAK. The reduced number of pages should not be misconstrued as diminished importance. Runway Incursion is still a big deal. Keep in mind that the deadliest aviation accident, to date, was a Runway Incursion at Tenerife, when two 747s collided on a foggy runway. That tragic event puts the "most important sign" into perspective.

The FAA has declared that "The most important sign and marking on the airport is the hold sign and hold marking." These are the graphics that denote the boundary of a runway and the FAA has assigned the new significance, in the latest issue of the PHAK, as the most important. The text goes on to say that each day, an average of three (reported) runway incursions occur at towered airports in the United States. That statistic seems to be the unmovable object in aviation. I would say the real number is higher, by definition, and I'll explain why below.

The FAA kept the bold print on Cross and Hold Short clearances and the requirement to read those clearances back. The after-landing reminder: "Do not cross any hold markings or exit onto any runways without ATC clearance" is still there. They go on to say, once clear of the landing runway, proceed so that all parts of the aircraft are past the hold position sign and await further instructions if no taxi instructions have been given by the tower. Taxi-in runway incursions at unfamiliar airports are very common, so check your pride and ask for progressive taxi if you are not certain of your destination on the airport.

So, what hit the cutting room floor during the rewrite? One of the most important sections, I believe, from the Appendix, addressed Movement and Non-Movement Areas.

Leave it to the FAA to give us a definition of the ramp and taxiways that can leave a pilot wondering "How do you have movement in the Non-Movement Area?" I have always inserted the word 'Controlled' in front of Movement Area, to help me remember what it means. In the Controlled Movement Area, if the tower is in operation, you must have permission to move your aircraft.

The boundary of the (Controlled) Movement Area looks like half a Hold-Short line, and operating in or crossing that line without permission can be treated as a runway incursion when the tower is in operation, if it is discovered. Why? Because you have entered the Protected Area of the airport and there is a collision risk if you do not have coordination with the control tower.

This is where I say that many more incursions happen than are reported because I have seen some very poorly placed Movement Area boundaries in my travels around the country. I think there is a general lack of understanding of the significance of this marking because I have seen these boundary lines crossed by pilots, flight attendants, linemen, passengers, limo drivers, tug drivers, fuel truck drivers, you name it. I usually try to take a moment to explain to the offender what the line means and that, if detected, they could be subject to FAA enforcement actions. Some of the trouble spots I have encountered are not even visible from the tower, so the detection seems a low probability, except by a roving FAA Inspector.

Once you enter the Movement Area, the more attention you can devote to taxiing the airplane, the less likely a runway incursion. This means don't multi-task. Complete checklists before you begin to taxi. Don't program the FMS while moving. Have an airport diagram out for reference. Even better, use the Display Own Ship during Taxi on an iPad to confirm your position on the airport. Listen up on the radio and write down taxi instructions. The lesson of Tenerife demands nothing less.


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