Acknowledgements: AOPA AIR SAFETY FOUNDATION USA
Blog Editor’s Note: Safety in the air is paramount but we sometimes need to be reminded of things with the potential to cause harm at ground level, so here are a few thoughts provided by AOPA. I make no apologies to our experienced pilot readers for re-stating the obvious!
In the USA over a ten-year period 350 aircraft accidents occurred in the ramp area. Only a few proved fatal, but over 80% caused damage to other aircraft and property on the ground. In 18% of the accidents, death or serious injury resulted from people walking into moving propellers. 62% of all ramp accidents occurred during taxi, and most accidents were the result of carelessness and/or lack of awareness.
Hazards on the ramp can come from many directions, so here are a few pointers to help you anticipate danger and manage the risks.
Get the big picture: At an unfamiliar airport, research traffic flows around the taxi and tie-down areas, and always keep a lookout for aircraft in motion. On arrival, if you’re not sure where to park, radio the tower and ask. After shutdown be careful walking in the ramp area, as there may be more traffic than you’re used to.
Don’t rely on your ears: Ramp noise can mask danger. The sounds of aircraft in the pattern, jets idling on the ramp, and noisy fuel trucks can be distracting, and can keep you from hearing someone yell “clear!” or other warnings of impending danger.
Look out below (and above): On the ramp tripping hazards abound, and the consequences can be much worse than a skinned knee. But don’t fixate on the ground. Most of us don’t expect to encounter many hazards at eye level and above, so it’s all too easy to walk straight into aircraft wing or tail surfaces when not paying attention.
Don’t be a litterbug: Foreign objects can damage aircraft, propellers, or jet engines. Eating or drinking on the ramp are distractions, and often result in leftover wrappers or cups which can be sucked into engines, or blown around by jet or prop blast. Leave all trash in the building, and if you see something lying around on the ramp, pick it up and throw it away.
Be careful in the car: If allowed to drive any vehicle on the ramp, remember that road rules do not necessarily apply. On taxiways, drive along the centre-line to remain visible and clear of parked aircraft. Drive slowly, and stop and look before pulling out from buildings and other blind spots. Aircraft ALWAYS have the right-of-way over vehicles except when the Tower has specifically instructed an aircraft to give way to vehicle(s) on a runway or taxiway.
Pre-flight check: Distractions can impact safety both on the ramp and during your upcoming flight. Unless you’re giving a flight lesson, conduct the pre-flight without discussion or interruption: You can explain things to passengers after you’ve finished.
Propellers: Avoid walking through the prop rotation area except when checking the blades, spinner, and air inlets. With piston aircraft, do not rotate the prop by hand unless you are prepared for the engine to start. Numerous deaths and serious injuries have resulted from hand-propping gone awry. Treat all propellers as though the engine magnetos are HOT. Approach only after the ignition is OFF and the keys are in your pocket. Hot magnetos happen when the P-lead breaks and the magneto becomes ungrounded. This can cause an engine to start just from having the propeller pulled through. To check for a hot magneto you should:
1. Just prior to shutdown, reduce power to idle
2. Slowly move the key through the Left, Right, and then OFF positions. The RPM should drop at each magneto position and stop in the OFF position
3. After the engine has shut down, pull the mixture to idle cut-off.
If the engine continues to run in the OFF position, shut the engine down with the mixture and mark the aircraft as having a hot magneto.
Jets and Helicopters: Never walk behind a running jet aircraft, no matter how small the engines look. At high power settings, exhaust from the engines on even the smallest jets can reach speeds near 200 mph. Jets have also been known to suck in loose clothing, hats, and even unsuspecting humans from the front! Helicopter rotor blades hang dangerously low when the aircraft is parked. Unless properly trained or under the supervision of the flight crew, never approach a running helicopter for any reason.
Passenger Safety: Every year, there are accidents where passengers are seriously or fatally injured by walking into a prop. Remind passengers to stay clear of any aircraft with a running engine, or with its strobe or beacon lights on. It is a good idea to steer clear of aircraft anytime pilots are in the cockpit, as there’s a good chance that the engine will be starting soon. Once in the aircraft with the engine running, make sure that nobody enters or leaves the aircraft without first shutting down the engine.
Look down, look up, and look out!