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Wing Tip Clearance Hazard
Taxiways are designated for use by all or only some aircraft types. Provided ATC do not make errors in issuing taxi clearance and aircraft flight crew comply with clearances or standard routings, the greatest risk of wing tip collision is present when aircraft are holding or manoeuvring, for example on the approach to the runway entry point. Large Aircraft where the wing tip may not be visible to the pilots, may have to manoeuvre, sometimes at night, to change the queuing order. Such movement often needs to be carried out without taxiway centrelines to follow.
The responsibility for aircraft safety when taxying remains wholly with each aircraft commander. Sometimes, the potential hazard of wingtip collision is known to the airport operators, who may mitigated their liability by ATIS or NOTAM statements such as “wingtip clearance is not assured”.
Examples of the way in which wing tip collision has occurred can be found in the reports on the serious incidents listed under below.
All the aircraft involved in these occurrences were, like most modern transport aircraft, swept wing types which are subject to a phenomenon known as ‘swept wing growth’ or ‘wing creep’. This occurs during a turn when the wing tip describes an arc greater than the normal wingspan due to the geometry of the aircraft and the arrangement of the landing gear. It is one of the reasons for the manufacturer’s cautions usually found in the Flight Crew Training Manuals. Although the effect is less noticeable at moderate curvature of turn, it still serves to erode the perceived wing tip clearance in any turn.
- ^ NATA Safety 1st® eToolkit – Volume I, Issue 3 – October 15, 2004
Accidents and Serious Incidents
- A343 / B744, London Heathrow UK, 2007 (On 15 October 2007, an Airbus 340-300 being operated on a scheduled passenger flight by Air Lanka with a heavy crew in the flight deck was taxiing towards the departure runway at London Heathrow at night in normal visibility when the right wing tip hit and sheared off the left hand winglet of a stationary British Airways Boeing 747-400 which was in a queue on an adjacent taxiway. The Airbus 340 sustained only minor damage to the right winglet and navigation light.)
- A343 / B752, London Heathrow UK, 1995 (On 23 November 1995, in normal daylight visibility, an Airbus A340-300 being operated by Gulf Air on a scheduled international passenger flight from London Heathrow taxied past a Boeing 757-200 being operated by British Airways on a scheduled domestic passenger flight and also departing from London Heathrow which had stopped on a diverging taxiway within the departure holding area for Runway 27R such that the wing tip of the Airbus impacted the tail fin of other aircraft. Two of the 378 occupants of the two aircraft suffered minor injuries and both aircraft were damaged. Passengers were deplaned uneventfully from both aircraft.)
- AT72, Shannon Ireland, 2014 (On 26 February 2014, an ATR 72-202 which had been substituted for the ATR42 which usually operated a series of night cargo flights was being marshalled out of its parking position with a new flight crew on board when the left wing was in collision with the structure of an adjacent hangar. The Investigation found that the aircraft type had not been changed on the applicable flight plan and ATC were consequently unaware that the aircraft had previously been parked in a position only approved for the use by the usual smaller aircraft type.)
- B738 / B738, Dublin Ireland, 2014 (On 7 October 2014, a locally-based Boeing 737-800 taxiing for departure from runway 34 at Dublin as cleared in normal night visibility collided with another 737-800 stationary in a queue awaiting departure from runway 28. Whilst accepting that pilots have sole responsible for collision avoidance, the Investigation found that relevant restrictions on taxi clearances were being routinely ignored by ATC. It also noted that visual judgement of wingtip clearance beyond 10 metres was problematic and that a subsequent very similar event at Dublin involving two 737-800s of the same Operator was the subject of a separate investigation.)
- B738 / B738, Seville Spain, 2012 (On 13 April 2012 a Boeing 737-800 being taxied off its parking stand for a night departure by the aircraft commander failed to follow the clearly and correctly marked taxi centrelines on the well-lit apron and instead took a short cut towards the taxiway centreline which resulted in the left winglet striking the left horizontal stabiliser and elevator of another Ryanair aircraft correctly parked on the adjacent stand causing damage which rendered both aircraft unfit for flight. The pilot involved was familiar with the airport and had gained almost all his flying experience on the accident aircraft type.)
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