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5 Surprising Runway Safety Threats

1. Construction NOTAMS can save your skin.

Taxiways and runways can be closed from a few hours to a few months. Markings and construction barriers might be positioned, or they might not. You don’t want to damage your aircraft by taxiing onto a closed runway or taxiway. Construction also adds greater risk at non towered airfields. To augment notams, the FAA publishes Airport Construction Notices on the FAA website, which help pilots visualize areas of construction. ForeFlight includes them in its app. The catch? You still have to review notams because additional changes can occur without updates to the graphical notices. Check notams before you fly.

2. Misheard clearances can be directions for a disaster.

Let’s say you’re about to depart the field with a pilot friend. The controller instructs you, “Three Four Sierra, Runway 28, full-length, line-up-and-wait.” You proceed as instructed, and while sitting at the end of Runway 28, you hear the controller issue a takeoff clearance, “One Seven Sierra, Runway 28 at Sierra, cleared for takeoff.” Confused, you ask your friend, “Was that for us?” He says, “I think so.” But, you fail to clarify with the controller and you initiate the takeoff. The problem is that a different aircraft was assigned an intersection departure from taxiway Sierra, downfield from your position. No doubt this was confusing, so stay alert when in position, ensure the takeoff clearance you hear is for you and not for cross-runway traffic or downfield traffic, and most importantly, clarify confusion with the controller.

3. Passengers are resources on the ground, to a point.

A private pilot wanted to make his passenger “feel involved.” While taxiing at a nontowered field, he asked the passenger to read the Before Takeoff checklist out loud. The nonpilot passenger was confused, causing the non-CFI pilot to demonstrate how to read the items. This diverted the pilot’s attention from listening to the CTAF and performing the runup properly. Upon entering the runway, another aircraft flew 150 feet overhead and landed. The pilot later described the mistake of assigning pilot-related tasks to a nonpilot passenger. Instead, passengers should be treated as passengers, with proper briefings before engine start. It’s also recommended to brief the importance of helping to see and avoid traffic, but passengers should not perform tasks that the PIC is responsible for.

4. Sometimes you need to just stop.

When is the right time to just stop taxiing and reassess your situation? The answer is, the very moment you ask that question. There are situations, especially in low visibility, where your position on the airfield can be in question. If you’re at a controlled field and need to stop to determine your position, ensure you tell the controller. They need to know, especially if traffic is following you. The worst thing any pilot can do is continue without knowing their position, make a “guess,” or fail to admit when they’re lost. Tools at your disposal include a moving map on your tablet, having the taxi diagram in clear view, adequate cockpit lighting, a briefing of the airport layout prior to taxi, stopping when needed, and asking for a progressive taxi. You are ultimately responsible for knowing your position on the airport at all times.

5. Not knowing what you don’t know

Do you know it all, or are you rusty? Take this five-question quiz and find out at

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