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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
- B744 / A321, London Heathrow UK, 2004 (On 23 March 2004, an out of service British Airways Boeing 747-400, under tow passed behind a stationary Airbus A321-200 being operated by Irish Airline Aer Lingus on a departing scheduled passenger service in good daylight visibility and the wing tip of the 747 impacted and seriously damaged the rudder of the A321. The aircraft under tow was cleared for the towing movement and the A321 was holding position in accordance with clearance. The towing team were not aware of the collision and initially, there was some doubt in the A321 flight deck about the cause of a ‘shudder’ felt when the impact occurred but the cabin crew of the A321 had felt the impact shudder and upon noticing the nose of the 747 appearing concluded that it had struck their aircraft. Then the First Officer saw the damaged wing tip of the 747 and informed ATC about the possible impact. Later another aircraft, positioned behind the A321, confirmed the rudder damage. At the time of the collision, the two aircraft involved were on different ATC frequencies.)
- B74S, Stockholm Arlanda Sweden, 2006 (On 11 December 2006, a Boeing 747SP being operated by Syrian Air on a scheduled passenger flight from Damascus to Stockholm was arriving on the designated parking gate at destination in normal visibility at night when it collided with the airbridge. None of the 116 occupants of the aircraft suffered any injury but the aircraft was “substantially damaged” and the airbridge was “damaged”.)
- A332/A345, Khartoum Sudan, 2010 (On 30 September 2010, an A330-200 was about to take off from Khartoum at night in accordance with its clearance when signalling from a hand-held flashlight and a radio call from another aircraft led to this not taking place. The other (on-stand) aircraft crew had found that they had been hit by the A330 as it had taxied past en route to the runway. The Investigation found that although there was local awareness that taxiway use and the provision of surface markings at Khartoum did not ensure safe clearance between aircraft, this was not being communicated by NOTAM or ATIS.)
- RJ85 / RJ1H, London City Airport, London UK, 2008 (On 21 April 2008, an Avro RJ85 aircraft was parked on Stand 10 at London City Airport, with an Avro RJ100 parked to its left, on the adjacent Stand 11. After being repositioned by a tug, the RJ85 taxied forward and to the right, its tail contacting the tail of the RJ100 and causing minor damage to the RJ100’s right elevator.)
- 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.)
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