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Tips on TIPH

Michael Lenz
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

At a Northwestern airport with runways oriented north-south and east-west, a Piper Cherokee was instructed to taxi into position and hold on the east-west runway. Meanwhile, another aircraft had been cleared to a stop-and-go option on the intersecting north-south runway. While the local controller’s attention was momentarily diverted, the Cherokee took off. The stop-and-go traffic, now airborne, dived to miss the departing Piper, which passed approximately 20 feet above it.

Such incidents occur far too frequently. In a recent three-year period, 31 runway incursions were caused by pilots departing without a takeoff clearance. Unauthorized takeoffs often result in loss of separation that, in some cases, narrowly avoids loss of life. What’s going on?

Part of the problem may be the use—or, more accurately, the misuse—of a vital air traffic management tool known as taxi into position and hold (TIPH). As described in Section 5-2-4 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), TIPH is an air traffic control (ATC) procedure designed to position an aircraft onto the runway for an imminent departure.

TIPH

TIPH is an extremely efficient use of time that would otherwise be wasted. As a landing aircraft decelerates, for example, the next departing aircraft can taxi into position for departure, when the runway is clear. For an idea of the delays that would accumulate without TIPH consider the table above.

Unfortunately, TIPH has a dark side. To pilots, TIPH may be a “lock and load” action similar to taking the “set” position for a relay race. Just as runners sometimes “jump the gun” by starting in the split seconds before the race actually begins, pilots with a TIPH clearance sometimes mistake that instruction for a takeoff clearance. But, while a runner can simply return to the starting blocks, an aircraft with momentum continues ahead—sometimes into the path of conflicting traffic.

To avoid becoming a statistic—and, more importantly, to avoid injury or loss of life—here are some tips to keep you from tripping on a TIPH instruction:

  • Always clarify any misunderstanding or confusion concerning ATC instructions.
  • Try to develop a comprehensive mental picture of arriving and departing traffic.
  • Read back your call sign and runway.
  • If multiple runways are in use, be sure that it is your call sign and your runway when cleared for takeoff.
  • Speak up if you have any doubts or concerns, such as being cleared to takeoff just after hearing an aircraft cleared for takeoff or landing on an intersecting runway. It is better to ask than risk a collision.
  • Help other pilots by announcing “blocked,” if you hear the garbled sound typical of two radios transmitting at once.
  • If takeoff clearance is not received within a reasonable amount of time (more than two minutes), contact ATC.
  • Be especially vigilant when conducting “position and hold” operations at night or during reduced visibility conditions.

For detailed information on TIPH, including guidelines and advisory information regarding TIPH operations, review Section 5-2-4 of the Aeronautical Information Manual. You can also check out the FAA’s TIPH Guidance for Pilots document, available as a PDF file at http://www.faa.gov/airports/runway_safety/media/pdf/TIPHpilots.pdf.

Michael Lenz is a Program Analyst in Flight Standards Service’s General Aviation and Commercial Division and a pilot.