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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
- B738/B738, Girona Spain, 2010 (On 14 January 2010, two Ryanair Boeing 737-800 aircraft were operating scheduled passenger flights from Girona to Las Palmas and Turin respectively and had taxied from adjacent gates at Girona in normal day visibility in quick succession. The Turin-bound aircraft taxied first but because it was early at the holding point for its CTOT, the other aircraft was designated first for take off and during the overtaking manoeuvre in the holding area, the wing tip of the moving Las Palmas aircraft hit the horizontal stabiliser of the Turin bound aircraft causing minor and substantial damage to the respective aircraft. None of the respective 81 and 77 occupants were injured and both aircraft taxied back to their gates.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- B744, Paris CDG France, 2003 (On 18 January 2003, a Boeing 747-400F being operated by Singapore Airlines Cargo on a scheduled cargo flight from Paris CDG to Dubai taxied for departure in darkness and fog with visibility less than 100 metres in places and the right wing was in collision with a stationary and unoccupied ground de/anti icing vehicle without the awareness of either the flight crew or anybody else at the time. Significant damage occurred to the de icing vehicle and the aircraft was slightly damaged. The vehicle damage was not discovered until almost two hours later and the aircraft involved was not identified until it arrived in Dubai where the damage was observed and the authorities at Paris CDG advised.)
- 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”.)
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