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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
- 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/A321, Prague Czech Republic, 2010 (GND HF) (On 18 June 2010 a Sun Express Boeing 737-800 taxiing for a full length daylight departure from runway 06 at Prague was in collision with an Airbus 321 which was waiting on a link taxiway leading to an intermediate take off position on the same runway. The aircraft sustained damage to their right winglet and left horizontal stabiliser respectively and both needed subsequent repair before being released to service.)
- B738/B763, Barcelona Spain, 2011 (GND HF) (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.)
- MD82 / MD11, Anchorage AK USA, 2002 (GND HF) (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.)
- A332/A345, Khartoum Sudan, 2010 (GND HF) (On 30 September 2010, an Airbus 330-200 being operated by KLM on a passenger fight from Khartoum to Abu Dhabi UAE taxied for departure along the main taxiway parallel to the runway in normal night ground visibility and when passing behind a parked Airbus A340-500 with passengers on board hit the lower empennage of that aircraft with its left wing tip without awareness of any impact. When the A340 crew reported the impact a few minutes later after detecting an abnormal jolt and losing the APU function and the services it was providing, the A330 had just been given take off clearance and was about to roll. Signalling from a hand held flashlight and the radio call from the A340 resulted in the A330 holding position and shutting down for a tow back to the Terminal. None of the 142 occupants on the A330 or any of those on the A340 were injured.)
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