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Taxiway Collisions

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Category: Ground Operations Ground Operations
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Description

An airport is a complex interface between the air and the ground environments, where access must be controlled and separation between aircraft or between aircraft and vehicular traffic must be maintained and optimised. While most occurrences on airport aprons and taxiways do not have consequences in terms of loss of life, they are often associated with aircraft damage, delays to passengers and avoidable financial costs.

This article examines collisions and near collisions whilst aircraft are on the airport manoeuvring areas inclusive of taxiways and ramp areas. The article On-Gate Collisions provides insight into aircraft collisions occurring whilst on, entering or leaving an assigned gate.

Occurrences

As previously stated, to ensure efficient and safe airport ground operations, separation between aircraft or between aircraft and vehicular traffic must be maintained and optimised. On occasion, however, minimum separation, particularly aircraft/vehicle separation is compromised. Whilst all events do not result in collision with an aircraft, the majority of taxiway occurrences involve vehicle operators deviating from a surface movement controller clearance. These "failure to comply" occurrences most usually involve vehicles:

  • using an incorrect taxiway
  • failing to stop at a taxiway holding point
  • failing to stay on the surface movement control radio frequency or ground frequency as appropriate
  • failing to obtain a clearance before entering an area subject to control.

In all cases, these actions have the potential to put the vehicle in conflict with an aircraft which, in turn, could:

  • lead to collision
  • require aggressive braking by the aircraft which could result in personnel injuries. Cabin crew are especially vulnerable as they might be moving within the cabin preforming pre-departure or post-landing duties


Most of the remaining occurrences are related to one of the following:

  • aircraft-aircraft collisions or near collisions - collisions can result from:
    • failure to follow taxiway centreline guidance
    • failure to stop prior to a stopbar
    • taxiing at speeds unsuited to the conditions or level of congestion
    • taxiway deviation whilst trying to manoeuvre to "squeeze" past another aircraft. Manoeuvring around an aircraft partially blocking a taxiway (as might be the case if the aircraft was approaching, but not yet at the stop point of, a gate) can lead to collision. If misjudged, this could result in a wingtip striking the tail of the stopped aircraft or it could compromise clearance between obstacles or other aircraft and the wingtip opposite the stopped aircraft
    • taxiway configuration - converging taxiways can potentially lead to reduced or compromised clearance, especially where they cross
  • reduced aircraft clearance with ground equipment or obstacles. Reduced clearance accidents or incidents can occur in various ways. These include:
    • inappropriate use of a restricted taxiway - some taxiways are restricted by wingspan. Use by a larger aircraft could compromise obstacle clearance
    • failure to follow taxi lane guidance - deviation from the lane guidance whilst manoeuvring in proximity to light stands, gates or stationary equipment can result in collision
  • jet blast -inappropriate thrust settings or following too closely can result in aircraft damage due to jet blast. Jet blast can also cause unsecured equipment such as Unit Load Devices (ULD) to move and strike other aircraft, equipment or personnel

Prevention

Most taxiway accidents and incidents are preventable. This prevention is dependant upon appropriate training and testing, compliance with clearances, published procedures and right-of-way rules, maintaining situational awareness and adapting speed of movement to suit the weather and surface conditions. Some specific accident prevention strategies are as follows:

  • Vehicle operators - It is imperative that vehicle operators be properly trained, tested and authorised for ramp and taxiway operations. Driving infractions should be investigated and additional training provided where appropriate. Multiple infractions should be considered grounds for suspension of airside driving privileges. Operators should:
    • ensure daily inspection for their vehicle is complete and that beacon/hazard lights are operating when the vehicle is airside
    • maintain situational awareness
    • operate their vehicle safely and in accordance with all company and airport rules
    • obey all "rules of the road" inclusive of speed limits, stop signs and right-of-way guidance
    • yield to aircraft at all times
    • obtain and read back any ground movement controller clearance prior to entering an area where clearance is required. If clearance is not understood, ASK!
  • Tug operators - Tug operators have the additional responsibility of moving aircraft on and off gates as well as positioning aircraft from one location on the airfield to another. In addition to the aforementioned items for vehicle operators, the tug operator must:
    • know the size of the aircraft in tow inclusive of the wingspan
    • be conversant with the normal taxi routes from one airfield location to another
    • understand the stopping distances required for a tug with an aircraft in tow
    • comply with all clearances, especially runway crossing clearances
    • use wing and tail walkers when manoeuvring in congested areas
  • Controllers - The ground controller is responsible for the safe and efficient movement of aircraft and vehicle traffic on the taxiways and aprons. They should:
    • provide the appropriate clearance for the requested action
    • ensure that the clearance readback is accurate
    • to the extent possible, monitor the movement visually, via transponder or by use of multilateration equipment to ensure clearance compliance
  • Pilots - In general, pilots are responsible for the ground movement of an aircraft from the runway to the gate and from the gate to the runway although they may also reposition aircraft from one point on the airfield to another. In all cases they should:
    • request, readback and comply with an appropriate clearance
    • maintain situational awareness
    • taxi at a speed appropriate to the conditions and traffic situation
    • maintain the centre of the taxi lane
    • be vigilant for taxi lane compromise by another aircraft, vehicle or object
    • not assume that vehicles will yield right-of-way

Accidents and Incidents

The following accidents and incidents involve collision or near collision between two aircraft, an aircraft and a vehicle, or an aircraft and a stationary object.

Aircraft/Aircraft Conflict

  • MD82 / MD11, Anchorage AK USA, 2002 (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.)
  • FA7X, London City UK, 2016 (On 24 November 2016, a Dassault Falcon 7X being marshalled into an unmarked parking position after arriving at London City Airport was inadvertently directed into a collision with another crewed but stationary aircraft which sustained significant damage. The Investigation found that the apron involved had been congested and that the aircraft was being marshalled in accordance with airport procedures with wing walker assistance but a sharp corrective turn which created a 'wing growth' effect created a collision risk that was signalled at the last minute and incorrectly so by the wing walker involved and was also not seen by the marshaller.)
  • RJ85 / RJ1H, London City Airport, London UK, 2008 (On 21 April 2008, an Avro RJ85 aircraft was parked on Stand 10 at London City Airport, with an Avro RJ100 parked to its left, on the adjacent Stand 11. After being repositioned by a tug, the RJ85 taxied forward and to the right, its tail contacting the tail of the RJ100 and causing minor damage to the RJ100’s right elevator.)
  • B190 / B737, Calgary Canada, 2014 (On 29 March 2014, a Beech 1900D being taxied by maintenance personnel at Calgary entered the active runway without clearance in good visibility at night as a Boeing 737-700 was taking off. The 737 passed safely overhead. The Investigation found that the taxiing aircraft had taken a route completely contrary to the accepted clearance and that the engineer on control of the aircraft had not received any relevant training. Although the airport had ASDE in operation, a transponder code was not issued to the taxiing aircraft as required and stop bar crossing detection was not enabled at the time.)
  • B742 / B741, Tenerife Canary Islands Spain, 1977 (On 27 March 1977, a KLM Boeing 747-200 began its low visibility take-off at Tenerife without requesting or receiving take-off clearance and a collision with a Boeing 747-100 backtracking the same runway subsequently occurred. Both aircraft were destroyed by the impact and consequential fire and 583 people died. The Investigation attributed the crash primarily to the actions and inactions of the KLM Captain, who was the Operator's Chief Flying Instructor. Safety Recommendations made emphasised the importance of standard phraseology in all normal radio communications and avoidance of the phrase "take-off" in ATC Departure Clearances.)
  • B733 / DH8D, Fort McMurray Canada, 2014 (On 4 August 2014, a Boeing 737-300 making a day visual approach at Fort McMurray after receiving an ILS/DME clearance lined up on a recently-constructed parallel taxiway and its crew were only alerted to their error shortly before touchdown by the crew of a DHC8-400 which was taxiing along the same taxiway in the opposite direction. This resulted in a go around being commenced from 46 feet agl. The Investigation noted that both pilots had been looking out during the final stages of the approach and had ignored important SOPs including that for a mandatory go around from an unstable approach.)
  • 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.)
  • B738 / B738, Toronto Canada, 2018 (On 5 January 2018, an out of service Boeing 737-800 was pushed back at night into collision with an in-service Boeing 737-800 waiting on the taxiway for a marshaller to arrive and direct it onto the adjacent terminal gate. The first aircraft’s tail collided with the second aircraft’s right wing and a fire started. The evacuation of the second aircraft was delayed by non-availability of cabin emergency lighting. The Investigation attributed the collision to failure of the apron controller and pushback crew to follow documented procedures or take reasonable care to ensure that it was safe to begin the pushback.)

Aircraft/Vehicle Conflict

  • B738, London Stansted UK, 2008 (On 13 November 2008, a Boeing 737-800 with an unserviceable APU was being operated by Ryanair on a passenger flight at night was in collision with a tug after a cross-bleed engine start procedure was initiated prior to the completion of a complex aircraft pushback in rain. As the power was increased on the No 1 engine in preparation for the No 2 engine start, the resulting increase in thrust was greater than the counter-force provided by the tug and the aircraft started to move forwards. The towbar attachment failed and subsequently the aircraft’s No 1 engine impacted the side of the tug, prior to the aircraft brakes being applied.)
  • SB20, Stockholm Arlanda, 2001 (On 18 December 2001, a Saab 2000 being operated by Air Botnia on scheduled passenger flight from Stockholm to Oulu was taxiing out at night in normal visibility in accordance with its ATC clearance when a car appeared from the left on a roadway and drove at speed on a collision course with the aircraft. In order to avoid a collision, the aircraft had to brake sharply and the aircraft commander saw the car pass under the nose of the aircraft and judged the vehicle’s closest distance to the aircraft to be four to five metres. The car did not stop, could not subsequently be identified and no report was made by the driver or other witnesses. The diagram below taken from the official report shows the site of the conflict - the aircraft was emerging from Ramp ‘G’ to turn left on taxiway ‘Z’ and the broken line shows the roadway which is crossed just before the left turn is commenced.)
  • A320, Dublin Ireland, 2017 (On 27 September 2017, an Airbus A320 being manoeuvred off the departure gate at Dublin by tug was being pulled forward when the tow bar shear pin broke and the tug driver lost control. The tug then collided with the right engine causing significant damage. The tug driver and assisting ground crew were not injured. The Investigation concluded that although the shear pin failure was not attributable to any particular cause, the relative severity of the outcome was probably increased by the wet surface, a forward slope on the ramp and fact that an engine start was in progress.)
  • FA50 / Vehicle, Moscow Vnukovo Russia, 2014 (On 20 October 2014 a Dassault Falcon 50 taking off at night from Moscow Vnukovo collided with a snow plough which had entered the same runway without clearance shortly after rotation. Control was lost and all occupants died when it was destroyed by impact forces and post crash fire. The uninjured snow plough driver was subsequently discovered to be under the influence of alcohol. The Investigation found that the A-SMGCS effective for over a year prior to the collision had not been properly configured nor had controllers been adequately trained on its use, especially its conflict alerting functions.)
  • B763, Luton UK, 2005 (On 16 February 2005, at Luton Airport, a Boeing B767-300 collided with the tug pulling it forward when the shear pin of the unserviceable tow bar being used to pull the aircraft broke. The aircraft ran onto the tug when the ground crew stopped the tug suddenly. As result of the collision with the tug the aircraft fuselage and landing gear was damaged.)
  • A343, Frankfurt Germany, 2008 (On 21 August 2008, an Airbus A340-300 being operated by an undisclosed operator by a German-licensed flight crew on a scheduled passenger flight from Teheran to Frankfurt collided with a stationary bus with only the driver on board whilst approaching the allocated parking gate in normal daylight visibility. The No 4 engine impacted the bus roof as shown in the photograph below reproduced from the official report. None of the occupants of either the aircraft or the bus were injured.)
  • A320, London Heathrow UK, 2006 (On 26 June 2006, after an uneventful pre-flight pushback of a British Airways Airbus A320-200 at London Heathrow Airport, the aircraft started moving under its own power and, shortly afterwards, collided with the tractor that had just performed the pushback, damaging both the right engine and the tractor.)
  • E190 / Vehicle, Paris CDG France, 2014 (On 19 April 2014, an Embraer 190 collided with the tug which was attempting to begin a pull forward after departure pushback which, exceptionally for the terminal concerned, was prohibited for the gate involved. As a result, severe damage was caused to the lower fuselage. The Investigation found that the relevant instructions were properly documented but ignored when apron services requested a 'push-pull' to minimise departure delay for an adjacent aircraft. Previous similar events had occurred on the same gate and it was suspected that a lack of appreciation of the reasons why the manoeuvre used was prohibited may have been relevant.)

Aircraft/Object Conflict

  • 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”.)
  • DH8D, Hubli India, 2015 (On 8 March 2015, directional control of a Bombardier DHC 8-400 which had just completed a normal approach and landing was lost and the aircraft departed the side of the runway following the collapse of both the left main and nose landing gear assemblies. The Investigation found that after being allowed to drift to the side of the runway without corrective action, the previously airworthy aircraft had hit a non-frangible edge light and the left main gear and then the nose landing gear had collapsed with a complete loss of directional control. The aircraft had then exited the side of the runway sustaining further damage.)
  • B772, Singapore, 2013 (On 19 December 2013, the left engine of a Boeing 777-200 taxiing onto its assigned parking gate after arrival at Singapore ingested an empty cargo container resulting in damage to the engine which was serious enough to require its subsequent removal and replacement. The Investigation found that the aircraft docking guidance system had been in use despite the presence of the ingested container and other obstructions within the clearly marked 'equipment restraint area' of the gate involved. The corresponding ground handling procedures were found to be deficient as were those for ensuring general ramp awareness of a 'live' gate.)
  • B734, Aberdeen UK, 2005 (Significant damage was caused to the tailplane and elevator of a Boeing 737-400 after the pavement beneath them broke up when take off thrust was applied for a standing start from the full length of the runway at Aberdeen. Although in this case neither outcome applied, the Investigation noted that control difficulties consequent upon such damage could lead to an overrun following a high speed rejected takeoff or to compromised flight path control airborne. Safety Recommendations on appropriate regulatory guidance for marking and construction of blast pads and on aircraft performance, rolling take offs and lead-on line marking were made.)
  • B722, Cotonou Benin, 2003 (On 25 December 2003, a Boeing 727-200 being operated by UTA (Guinea) on a scheduled passenger flight from Cotonou to Beirut with a planned stopover at Kufra, Libya, failed to get properly airborne in day VMC from the 2400 metre departure runway and hit a small building 2.45 metres high situated on the extended centreline 118 metres beyond the end of the runway. The right main landing gear broke off and ripped off a part of the trailing edge flaps on the right wing. The airplane then banked slightly to the right and crashed onto the beach where it broke into several pieces and ended up in the sea where the depth of water varied between three and ten metres. Of the estimated 163 occupants, 141 were killed and the remainder seriously injured.)
  • B738, Barcelona Spain, 2015 (On 12 December 2015, whilst a Boeing 737-800 was beginning disembarkation of passengers via an air bridge which had just been attached on arrival at Barcelona, the bridge malfunctioned, raising the aircraft nose gear approximately 2 metres off the ground. The door attached to the bridge then failed and the aircraft dropped abruptly. Prompt cabin crew intervention prevented all but two minor injuries. The Investigation found that the occurrence had been made possible by the failure to recognise new functional risks created by a programme of partial renovation being carried out on the air bridges at the Terminal involved.)
  • B744, Johannesburg South Africa, 2013 (On 22 December 2013, a Boeing 747-400 taxiing for departure at Johannesburg at night with an augmented crew failed to follow its correctly-acknowledged taxi clearance and one wing hit a building resulting in substantial damage to both aircraft and building and a significant fuel leak. The aircraft occupants were all uninjured but four people in the building sustained minor injuries. The accident was attributed to crew error both in respect of an inadequate briefing and failure to monitor aircraft position using available charts and visual reference. Some minor contributory factors relating to the provision of airport lighting and signage were noted.)
  • A319, London Heathrow UK, 2007 (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)

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