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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 (GND HF) (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.)
- A319, London Heathrow UK, 2007 (GND HF) (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)
- B74S, Stockholm Arlanda Sweden, 1996 (GND HF) (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, Girona Spain, 2010 (GND HF) (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.)
- DH8C / GALX, Valencia Spain, 2008 (HF GND) (On 11 February 2008, the crew of a DHC8-300 misjudged the sufficient clearance during taxi and collided with a Gulfstream G200 at a taxiway intersection.)
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