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It Ain’t Over ‘Til it’s Over ...

Source: www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing, By James Williams

When you think of the end of a flight, what comes to mind? If you’re honest, it’s probably that moment the wheels touch down (hopefully smoothly) on the runway and the airspeed bleeds off. I know I’ve been guilty of this faulty assumption as well. It’s easy to understand why there’s a good bit of relief to be “on the ground” again, especially if the flight didn’t exactly go as planned. You may even feel that all of the flying is done. But, the reality is that your flight doesn’t really end until you are out of the airplane and safely back to the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) or your car. There are safety concerns that start before takeoff and last until well after landing.

taxiing graphic

Keeping it Down on the Ground

Airplanes make really lousy cars. There are a few manufacturers working very hard to change that, but as a rule, airplanes just aren’t that great when it comes to ground handling. In fact most of the things that make an airplane a good airplane make it more challenging as a ground vehicle. The small tires, narrow track, high center of gravity, and three wheel configurations (particularly with nose gear) make for one of the worst possible ground conveyances this side of a unicycle with a flat tire. And that’s before you consider all of those large aircraft surfaces that actively work against you keeping the aircraft of the ground (i.e., wings and horizontal stabilizers). But never fear, here are a few suggestions to help you finish the flight without a mishap.

  • Keep your speed down: While you want to be as expeditious as possible, it’s also important to discourage unintended flight by keeping a healthy gap between your taxi speed and Vr, especially in windy conditions.
  • Know your wind: Remember that the wind direction and speed don’t cease to be important after touchdown. Just as you correct for a crosswind on takeoff and landing, correcting for wind during taxi is equally critical.
  • Know where you’re going: Nothing ruins your day like a runway incursion. Trust me — I’ve been there. Neither the offending or offended party wants anything to do with that. In today’s world of endless information, it’s easy to bookmark or even print out an airport diagram for use in navigating your way around. And remember that when in doubt, hold short.

A Dash to the Finish Line

Finally you’ve pulled into the parking spot. You’re done, right? Not so fast. While the loss of control threat may have ended, you’re not out of the woods just yet. The ramp is full of potential safety challenges, especially for any passenger unfamiliar with the GA environment. At night, and even sometimes during the day, things like tie downs, equipment lockers, tow bars, light poles, and of course, the propellers, can represent dangers from mild to deadly. This is why you should brief your passengers on what to expect and what they should and shouldn’t do after parking. Make sure you have the airplane secured and are prepared to shepherd your passengers before you “turn off” the seat belt sign. This is especially important in aircraft like Bonanzas or some Pipers where they may have to exit the aircraft before you. Even things that seem like second nature to you (like the step down off a low wing airplane) could present a hazard to an inexperienced passenger. A quick briefing could limit the risk and make your passengers feel more comfortable. As a GA ambassador, it’s your job to safely escort your guests through a world that may be strange to them.

There is a world of safety implications to consider when your aircraft is still ground bound. It’s easy to overlook given the anticipation of your upcoming flight or the relief of its being over. To help you maintain the right mindset, just remember the words of the late great Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

James Williams is FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor and photo editor. He is also a pilot and ground instructor.