Looking Both Ways

In teaching student pilots, I have been amazed that a few will cross a runway or taxiway without looking. At airports with control towers and active ATC, the instances of this happening are more pronounced than at airports without ground control. The idea of crossing an active runway or taxiway is the same as walking across a busy highway. You have to look, in order to be safe from other traffic. It only takes one instance of another airplane almost hitting your plane to make a believer out of you.

The question also becomes one of, as a flight instructor, how to emphasize this concept well enough to your student without becoming a nag. It is, after all, a very important concept. The problem with constantly hassling your student “to look both ways before crossing,” is that after a while, they will tune you out. You can say it again, but they will not hear it.

One day, I took a student to one of the outlying fields. I don’t know how many times I had asked him to clear in each direction before crossing runways. As we practiced takeoffs and landings and he perfected his short field technique, I saw a friend of mine taxi from his hangar. I knew what my friend was going to do; he was notorious for using the cross runway rather than the preferred.

Sure enough, as my student was about to taxi across the runway, my friend flew by the nose of our airplane. My student slammed on the brakes and started screaming at the pilot who just flew by.

I let him go on for as long as he wanted, at about $150 per hour.

When he slowed down enough, I asked, “Did you look before crossing?”

“Well, uh, uh… he didn’t use the right runway!”

“Is this a towered airport? Or un-towered?”

“It’s …un-towered, but, but, he didn’t even use his radio!”

“Is there a regulation requiring him to use a radio?”

“Well, no, b-but he should have made a call.”

“Did he do anything illegal?”

“… well, no…”

I let him think about it a little longer. He never crossed a runway or taxiway without looking both ways ever again. I could not have planned, or paid my friend well enough, for the lesson he gave my student that spring morning.

In another incident, I was checking out one of the instructors on my team. It was an enjoyable flight; she was flying the airplane well, and would not have trouble teaching in the mighty PA-44 Seminole.

At the end of the flight, she made the final landing and cleared the active runway. While she cleaned up the airplane, I keyed the mike and asked for clearance to our ramp, which would take us across a perpendicular runway. It was a late Friday afternoon, just before sundown. Ground cleared us all the way to the ramp (this was in the days before the new procedures).

As we approached the perpendicular, we looked to the south and I saw a landing light.

“Ground, confirm we’re cleared to cross.”

Things were a little slow in the tower and the ground controller seemed a little put off when he replied, “That’s what I said, cleared to the ramp.” As the instructor flying continued the taxi, I continued watching the landing light to the south.

I didn’t like it.

Right at the moment I brushed her hands off the throttles and pushed the power up beyond 1800 rpm, the ground controller suddenly called out, “Expedite! Expedite! Expedite! We’re not talkin’ to him!” He didn’t even bother using our call sign.

Later we found out the errant plane was a piloted by a student pilot who thought she was making the approach to another airport about eight miles north with a similar runway pattern.

Always make sure—look both ways before you cross anything with perpendicular traffic. That includes all runways, taxiways, highways, and anything else ending in “ways.”

Be safe out there.


©2011 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Looking Both Ways

  1. Dave says:

    There but for the grace of [insert deity of choice if applicable] go I …

    I don’t think I’ve made this mistake so far, and I hope I never do. My instructor is pretty tireless on this topic.

    • Joe Clark says:

      Dave, I can so agree! I have been guilty when trying to cross a road on foot. Thanks to those drivers with the horns.

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