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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/A321, Prague Czech Republic, 2010 (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.)
- 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.)
- A343 / B752, London Heathrow UK, 1995 (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/B763, Barcelona Spain, 2011 (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.)
- 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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