Two of the most misunderstood areas in all aviation operations are taxiway and airport signage. As a fight instructor, it is evident that students are missing the mark when it comes to proper instruction during ground operations. Learning to taxi the airplane is one of the first things we do as pilots and it is often an overlooked and rushed portion of training. Lacking basic knowledge of taxiway/airport signage at your quiet hometown airfield will make for an impossible undertaking at fast-paced high volume airports.
As the FAA works to prevent runway and taxiway incursions, we as pilots must accept the responsibility to educate ourselves through continued proficiency training. The days of a laissez-faire attitude can ultimately end up landing you with FAA enforcement action, even suspension or revocation of your pilot certificates or worse case an accident.
There are generally six different types of signs installed at U.S. airfields: mandatory instruction signs, location signs, direction signs, destination signs, information signs, and runway remaining signs. Of these six different types, there are two that I have found to be the most misunderstood: taxiway location and taxiway direction signs.
Direction signs identify the designations of intersecting taxiways leading out of the intersections that a pilot would normally be expected to turn onto or hold short of. Direction signs are normally located prior to the intersection and on the left hand side. Direction signs like the one below indicate only one intersecting taxi route, as there are two arrows on either side of the taxiway identifier.
Location signs identify what taxiway or runway the aircraft is located on. Variations on the location signs are: taxiway location, runway location, runway boundary, and ILS critical area boundary.
A solid understanding of location and direction signs is required to operate your aircraft safely on any airport surface. The location/direction sign below indicates we are currently taxiing on taxiway Papa and approaching the intersection of taxiway Charlie.
As pilot in command of your aircraft it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure you are fully prepared for the flight ahead. This includes knowing how to properly interpret taxiway and airport signage as well as your airport diagram. In the event you become disoriented while taxing on the airport surface the ONLY appropriate action is to immediately stop your aircraft and request assistance or progressive taxi. Do not simply accept a taxi instruction and push the throttle forward if you are not sure where you will end up. The same is true after clearing the runway post landing. My favorite question to ask after a student and I receive our taxi clearance is, “how do we get there?” That question is usually met with a blank stare and a fumbling towards the digital airport diagram. The FAA and air traffic controllers are cracking down on pilot negligence. We must be as vigilant with taxiing as we are with instrument navigation. Your safety and future depends on it. Most people don’t know or realize that the worst, most deadly aviation accident of all time happened on the ground at Tenerife when two 747′s collided when one crew was unsure of their location on the airport.