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Wing Tip Clearance Hazard
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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, Paris CDG France, 2003 (GND HF) (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.)
- 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.)
- B744 / B763, Melbourne Australia, 2006 (GND HF) (On 2 February 2006, a Boeing 747-400 was taxiing for a departure at Melbourne Airport. At the same time, a Boeing 767-300 was stationary on taxiway Echo and waiting in line to depart from runway 16. The left wing tip of the Boeing 747 collided with the right horizontal stabiliser of the Boeing 767 as the first aircraft passed behind. Both aircraft were on scheduled passenger services from Melbourne to Sydney. No one was injured during the incident.)
- A343 / B752, London Heathrow UK, 1995 (GND HF) (On 23 November 1995, in normal daylight visibility, an Airbus A340-300 being operated by Gulf Air on a scheduled international passenger flight from London Heathrow taxied past a Boeing 757-200 being operated by British Airways on a scheduled domestic passenger flight and also departing from London Heathrow which had stopped on a diverging taxiway within the departure holding area for Runway 27R such that the wing tip of the Airbus impacted the tail fin of other aircraft. Two of the 378 occupants of the two aircraft suffered minor injuries and both aircraft were damaged. Passengers were deplaned uneventfully from both aircraft.)
- 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.)
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