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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
- A319, London Heathrow UK, 2007 (On 12 February 2007, an Airbus A319-100 being operated by British Airways on a scheduled passenger flight into London Heathrow made unintended contact in normal daylight visibility with the stationary airbridge at the arrival gate. This followed an emergency stop made after seeing hand signals from ground staff whilst following SEGS indications which appeared to suggest that there was a further 5 metres to run to the correct parking position. There was no damage to the aircraft, only minimal damage to the airbridge and there were no injuries to the aircraft occupants or any other person)
- MD82 / MD11, Anchorage AK USA, 2002 (On 17 March 2002, at Ted Stevens Anchorage Airport, a McDonnell Douglas MD82 operated by Alaska Airlines, on a night pushback in snow conditions collided with an inbound taxiing McDonnell Douglas MD-11. The MD82 suffered substantial rudder damage although the impacting MD11 winglet was undamaged.)
- B738/B763, Barcelona Spain, 2011 (On 14 April 2011, a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 failed to leave sufficient clearance when taxiing behind a stationary Boeing 767-300 at Barcelona and the 737 wingtip was in collision with the horizontal stabiliser of the 767, damaging both. The 767 crew were completely unaware of any impact but the 737 crew realised the ‘close proximity’ but dismissed a cabin crew report that a passenger had observed a collision. Both aircraft completed their intended flights without incident after which the damage was discovered, that to the 767 requiring that the aircraft be repaired before further flight.)
- B74S, Stockholm Arlanda Sweden, 1996 (On 14 June 1996, a Boeing 747SP being operated by Air China on a scheduled passenger flight from Beijing to Stockholm was arriving on the designated parking gate at destination in normal daylight visibility when it collided with the airbridge. None of the 130 occupants of the aircraft suffered any injury but the aircraft was “substantially damaged” and the airbridge was “damaged”.)
- 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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