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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Decision Making – Ground Handling

Welcome to a new year of flying and some of the same old challenges. Let’s take a look this month at aircraft ground handing (i.e. parking pull-out and push-back). Yes I know, boring stuff but expensive if we bump into something.

Various factors may contribute to aircraft damage during ground handling, and the following three factors are probably high on the list. All three could easily blur (combine) together.

1)     Loss of spatial awareness, aircraft versus the surrounding environment

2)     Distractions

3)     Fixation

Loss of spatial awareness can happen during flight and on the ground. For example, how many times during your preflight aircraft inspection have you noticed small dents and/or scratches on the aircraft wing tip, tail or fuselage? The point is that dents and scratches were likely caused by either taxi or ground handling accidents by the pilot or someone handling adjacent aircraft. Aircraft are big and extend in all directions with wings and tail, so it is easy to misjudge the relative position of the aircraft extremities versus the surrounding environment (fences, posts, hangers, and adjacent aircraft).

Distractions are also common during ground handling. For example, a pilot who recently was pushing their aircraft back into the parking spot was distracted by another aircraft taxing down the same parking row. Unfortunately, in the “hurry” to get the aircraft pushed back into the parking space, the pilot’s aircraft collided with the adjacent aircraft wing tip.

Fixation is the third common issue and is often combined with a loss of spatial awareness. Similar to the distraction example, another pilot was pushing back their aircraft into the parking spot and was intently focused on aligning the aircraft with the parking T. During the last several feet of push-back, the pilot realized that the aircraft was too far left of the center of the T, so the pilot abruptly maneuvered the nose wheel with the tow bar to re-center the aircraft. Unfortunately a small swing arm in the nose translates into a big swing arm in the tail which collided with the adjacent aircraft.

How can we prevent aircraft ground handling damage? We can develop good aircraft handling habits and best practices.

1)     Walk around the aircraft before moving anywhere (pull-out or push-back) to observe the aircraft’s position relative to adjacent aircraft and obstacles.

2)     Wing watchers (2nd person) can provide extra-eyes to observe the wing-tips and tail. This is a common airline best practice.

3)     Helpers (2nd person) can provide assistance moving the aircraft allowing the person steering to observe aircraft extremities and position.

4)     Technique, aligning the aircraft with the parking space before entering the parking spot, then push the aircraft straight back into the parking spot with only small steering corrections (i.e. no last-minute BIG corrections). If the position does not look good, then stop, observe, and try-again.