Taxiway Collisions

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

  • A343 / B752, London Heathrow UK, 1995 (On 23 November 1995, in normal daylight visibility, an Airbus A340-300 being operated by Gulf Air on a scheduled international passenger flight from London Heathrow taxied past a Boeing 757-200 being operated by British Airways on a scheduled domestic passenger flight and also departing from London Heathrow which had stopped on a diverging taxiway within the departure holding area for Runway 27R such that the wing tip of the Airbus impacted the tail fin of other aircraft. Two of the 378 occupants of the two aircraft suffered minor injuries and both aircraft were damaged. Passengers were deplaned uneventfully from both aircraft.)
  • A321 / B734, Barcelona Spain, 2015 (On 25 November 2015, an Airbus A321 taxiing for departure at Barcelona was cleared across an active runway in front of an approaching Boeing 737 with landing clearance on the same runway by a Ground Controller unaware that the runway was active. On reaching the lit stop bar protecting the runway, the crew queried their clearance and were told to hold position. Noting that the event had occurred at the time of a routine twice-daily runway configuration change and two previous very similar events in 2012 and 2014, further safety recommendations on risk management of runway configuration change were made.)
  • SH33 / MD83, Paris CDG France, 2000 (On the 25th of May, 2000 a UK-operated Shorts SD330 waiting for take-off at Paris CDG in normal visibility at night on a taxiway angled in the take-off direction due to its primary function as an exit for opposite direction landings was given a conditional line up clearance by a controller who had erroneously assumed without checking that it was at the runway threshold. After an aircraft which had just landed had passed, the SD330 began to line up unaware that an MD83 had just been cleared in French to take off from the full length and a collision occurred.)
  • B744 / A321, London Heathrow UK, 2004 (On 23 March 2004, an out of service British Airways Boeing 747-400, under tow passed behind a stationary Airbus A321-200 being operated by Irish Airline Aer Lingus on a departing scheduled passenger service in good daylight visibility and the wing tip of the 747 impacted and seriously damaged the rudder of the A321. The aircraft under tow was cleared for the towing movement and the A321 was holding position in accordance with clearance. The towing team were not aware of the collision and initially, there was some doubt in the A321 flight deck about the cause of a ‘shudder’ felt when the impact occurred but the cabin crew of the A321 had felt the impact shudder and upon noticing the nose of the 747 appearing concluded that it had struck their aircraft. Then the First Officer saw the damaged wing tip of the 747 and informed ATC about the possible impact. Later another aircraft, positioned behind the A321, confirmed the rudder damage. At the time of the collision, the two aircraft involved were on different ATC frequencies.)
  • B738/B763, Barcelona Spain, 2011 (On 14 April 2011, a Ryanair Boeing 737-800 failed to leave sufficient clearance when taxiing behind a stationary Boeing 767-300 at Barcelona and the 737 wingtip was in collision with the horizontal stabiliser of the 767, damaging both. The 767 crew were completely unaware of any impact but the 737 crew realised the ‘close proximity’ but dismissed a cabin crew report that a passenger had observed a collision. Both aircraft completed their intended flights without incident after which the damage was discovered, that to the 767 requiring that the aircraft be repaired before further flight.)
  • A343 / B744, London Heathrow UK, 2007 (On 15 October 2007, an Airbus 340-300 being operated on a scheduled passenger flight by Air Lanka with a heavy crew in the flight deck was taxiing towards the departure runway at London Heathrow at night in normal visibility when the right wing tip hit and sheared off the left hand winglet of a stationary British Airways Boeing 747-400 which was in a queue on an adjacent taxiway. The Airbus 340 sustained only minor damage to the right winglet and navigation light.)
  • DH8C / P180, Ottawa ON Canada, 2013 (On 1 December 2013, a small aircraft taxing for departure at night was cleared to cross an active runway and did so as a DHC8 was taking off from the same runway. Separation was significant and there was no actual risk of collision. The Investigation found that the GND controller had issued clearance to the taxiing aircraft when he had responsibility for its whole taxi route but had neither updated the aircraft status system nor directly advised of the taxiing aircraft when passing responsibility for part of its cleared route to the TWR controller who therefore remained unaware of it.)
  • DC91 / B722, Detroit MI USA, 1990 (On 3 December 1990 a Douglas DC9-10 flight crew taxiing for departure at Detroit in thick fog got lost and ended up stopped to one side of an active runway where, shortly after reporting their position, their aircraft was hit by a departing Boeing 727-200 and destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire. The Investigation concluded that the DC9 crew had failed to communicate positional uncertainty quickly enough but that their difficulties had been compounded by deficiencies in both the standard of air traffic service and airport surface markings, signage and lighting undetected by safety regulator oversight.)

Aircraft/Vehicle Conflict

  • 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.)
  • B737, Gran Canaria Spain, 2016 (On 7 January 2016, a Boeing 737-700 was inadvertently cleared by ATC to take off on a closed runway. The take-off was commenced with a vehicle visible ahead at the runway edge. When ATC realised the situation, a 'stop' instruction was issued and the aircraft did so after travelling approximately 740 metres. Investigation attributed the controller error to "lost situational awareness". It also noted prior pilot and controller awareness that the runway used was closed and that the pilots had, on the basis of the take-off clearance crossed a lit red stop bar to enter the runway without explicit permission.)
  • B742, Stockholm Arlanda Sweden, 2007 (On 25 June 2007, a Boeing 747-200F being operated by Cathay Pacific on a scheduled cargo flight from Stockholm to Dubai had completed push back for departure in normal daylight visibility and the parking brakes had been set. The tow vehicle crew had disconnected the tow bar but before they and their vehicle had cleared the vicinity of the aircraft, it began to taxi and collided with the vehicle. The flight crew were unaware of this and continued taxiing for about 150 metres until the flight engineer noticed that the indications from one if the engines were abnormal and the aircraft was taxied back to the gate. The tow vehicle crew and the dispatcher had been able to run clear and were not injured physically injured although all three were identified as suffering minor injury (shock). The aircraft was “substantially damaged” and the tow vehicle was “damaged”.)
  • DH8C, Toronto Canada, 2019 (On 10 May 2019, a Bombardier DHC8-300 taxiing in at Toronto at night was hit by a fuel tanker travelling at “approximately 25 mph” which failed to give way where a designated roadway crossed a taxiway causing direct crew and indirect passenger injuries and substantial damage. The Investigation attributed the collision to the vehicle driver’s limited field of vision in the direction of the aircraft coming and lack of action to compensate for this, noting the need for more effective driver vigilance with respect to aircraft right of way rules when crossing taxiways. The aircraft was declared beyond economic repair.)
  • B744, Paris CDG France, 2003 (On 18 January 2003, a Boeing 747-400F being operated by Singapore Airlines Cargo on a scheduled cargo flight from Paris CDG to Dubai taxied for departure in darkness and fog with visibility less than 100 metres in places and the right wing was in collision with a stationary and unoccupied ground de/anti icing vehicle without the awareness of either the flight crew or anybody else at the time. Significant damage occurred to the de icing vehicle and the aircraft was slightly damaged. The vehicle damage was not discovered until almost two hours later and the aircraft involved was not identified until it arrived in Dubai where the damage was observed and the authorities at Paris CDG advised.)
  • 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.)
  • Vehicle / B752, Dublin Ireland, 2009 (On 29 May 2009, a Boeing 757-200 being operated by UK Airline Thomson Airways on a passenger charter flight from Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt to Dublin and having just landed on runway 10 at destination at night in poor visibility overtook a small ride-on grass mower moving along the right hand side of the runway in approximate line with the aircraft’s right hand wing tip. The driver of the mower was unaware of the arriving aircraft until he heard it on the runway behind him. Prior to the landing, ATC had been informed that all grass-cutting equipment previously working on and around the runway had cleared it.)
  • 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.)

Aircraft/Object Conflict

  • 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.)
  • B773, Abu Dhabi UAE, 2016 (On 27 September 2016, the left engine of a Boeing 777-300 failed on takeoff from Abu Dhabi after it ingested debris resulting from tread separation from one of the nose landing gear tyres and a successful overweight return to land then followed. The Investigation found that FOD damage rather than any fault with the manufacture or re-treading of the tyre had initiated tread separation and also noted the absence of any assessment of the risk of engine damage and failure from such debris ingestion which it was noted had the potential to have affected both engines rather than just one.)
  • 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.)
  • AT76, Surabaya Indonesia, 2014 (On 11 June 2014, an ATR 72-600 sustained substantial damage after hitting an object after touchdown at Surabaya but was able to taxi to post-flight parking. The Investigation found that several sizeable items of equipment had been left on the runway after it had been closed for overnight maintenance work and that no runway inspection had been carried out once the work was complete. It was concluded that departing aircraft had probably become airborne before reaching the reported location and that ATC had reacted with insufficient urgency after beginning to receive FOD reports from previous landing aircraft once daylight prevailed.)
  • 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, Djalaluddin Indonesia, 2013 (On 6 August 2013, a Boeing 737-800 encountered cows ahead on the runway after landing normally in daylight following an uneventful approach and was unable to avoid colliding with them at high speed and as a result departed the runway to the left. Parts of the airport perimeter fencing were found to have been either missing or inadequately maintained for a significant period prior to the accident despite the existence of an airport bird and animal hazard management plan. Corrective action was taken following the accident.)
  • A319, Ibiza Spain, 2016 (On 19 June 2016, an Airbus A320 failed to follow the clearly-specified and ground-marked self-positioning exit from a regularly used gate at Ibiza and its right wing tip collided with the airbridge, damaging both it and the aircraft. The Investigation found that the crew had attempted the necessary left turn using the Operator’s ‘One Engine Taxi Departure’ procedure using the left engine but then failed to follow the marked taxi guideline by a significant margin. It was noted that there had been no other such difficulties with the same departure in the previous four years it had been in use.)
  • A321, Daegu South Korea, 2006 (On 21 February 2006, an Airbus A321-200 being operated by China Eastern on a scheduled passenger flight from Daegu to Shanghai Pudong failed to follow the marked taxiway centreline when taxiing for departure in normal daylight visibility and a wing tip impacted an adjacent building causing minor damage to both building and aircraft. None of the 166 occupants were injured.)

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