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Backtrack. To taxi on a runway-in-use, in the opposite direction to the aircraft’s take-off or landing direction. (Source: UK CAA)
BACK-TAXI. A term used by air traffic controllers to taxi an aircraft on the runway opposite to the traffic flow. The aircraft may be instructed to back-taxi to the beginning of the runway or at some point before reaching the runway end for the purpose of departure or to exit the runway. (Source: US FAA)
A basic airport with just a short taxiway connecting the ramp with the middle of the runway will require ATC to arrange for backtracking of the runway by most of the arriving and departing traffic.
The presence of taxiways parallel to the runway with several joining taxiways greatly reduces the need for backtrack and facilitate expeditious operations. Landing aircraft may vacate the runway at a convenient point while the pilots focus on optimal deceleration rather than on trying to use a specific taxiway. Runway vacation normally happens before the last taxiway therefore enabling aircraft departing in the opposite direction to use the full length without the need to backtrack.
For the purpose of expediting air traffic, aircraft may be permitted to taxi on the runway-in-use, provided no delay or risk to other aircraft will result. The use of backtrack is an example of this procedure. It allows more than one aircraft to be on the same runway (without compromising safety), hence the benefit to efficiency.
An example of instruction for backtrack:
Controller: [Callsign], backtrack and line up runway [designator]
Backtrack instruction are to be read back by the pilot.
Pilot: Backrack and line up runway [designator], [callsign]
Backtrack may happen on both pilot's and controller's initiative. An example is provided below:
Conroller: DBF078, taxi to holding point runway 09 via taxiway Alpha
Pilot: Runway 09 request taxiway Bravo and backtrack, DBF078
Controller: DBF078, approved, taxi via Bravo, backtrack and line up runway 09
Pilot: Bravo backtrack and line up runway 09, DBF078
Accidents and Incidents
- A343, Tabriz Iran, 2013 (On 18 April 2013, an Airbus A340-300 was unintentionally taxied off the side of the runway during a 180° turn after backtracking the departure runway at Tabriz at night. The Investigation found that the prevailing wet runway conditions meant that the runway width alone was insufficient for the turn and full advantage had not been taken of a wide taxiway at the runway displaced threshold. It was also found that the technique used to turn had not been optimum and that the runway involved was for daylight use only and had a strength rating not compatible with A340 use.)
- A320 / B739, Yogyakarta Indonesia, 2013 (On 20 November 2013, an A320 misunderstood its taxi out clearance at Yogyakarta and began to enter the same runway on which a Boeing 737, which had a valid landing clearance but was not on TWR frequency, was about to touch down from an approach in the other direction of use. On seeing the A320, which had stopped with the nose of the aircraft protruding onto the runway, the 737 applied maximum manual braking and stopped just before reaching the A320. The Investigation faulted ATC and airport procedures as well as the A320 crew for contributing to the risk created.)
- AT72, Cologne-Bonn Germany, 2020 (On 27 April 2020, an ATR 72-200 freighter crew attempted a night takeoff in good visibility aligned with the edge of runway 06 and did not begin rejecting it until within 20 knots of the applicable V1 despite hearing persistent regular noises which they did not recognise as edge light impacts and so completed the rejection on the same alignment. The Investigation noted both pilots’ familiarity with the airport and their regular work together and attributed their error to their low attention level and a minor distraction during the turnround after backtracking.)