How many times as a pilot, have we heard that phrase? Well, as of June 30th we will be hearing it a lot more. The FAA instituted a change to the Air Traffic Controller’s handbook (the 7110.65) that changes the way taxi instructions are issued. Previously, a taxi clearance (as we all know from the FAA written test questions) allowed a pilot to cross all runways except the assigned departure runway. The new procedure requires the ground controller to issue a specific clearance to cross every runway along the taxi route. This includes closed and inactive runways.
You may not enter a runway unless you have been instructed to cross that specific runway; cleared to take off from that runway; or instructed to position and hold on that specific runway.
The irony is that this change will probably increase the number of reported runway incursions, at least temporarily. For years, the FAA taught us to approach a closed or inactive runway, look both ways, turn on the exterior lighting and taxi across the runway because we were not told to hold short. That action will now be classified as a runway incursion and may earn us a chat with a FSDO inspector.
What can we do to help us adapt to this change? The first action should be to get out the taxi chart. Even at your home base or an airport that you go to frequently. Look at your usual taxi routes and identify the spots that will now require a runway crossing clearance. Verbalize the taxi route to yourself if single pilot, or in a crew brief. “OK, we are planning Runway 31 via Sierra, Alpha and expecting to receive instructions to hold short of Runway 23 on Alpha. If we do not get the clearance, we will stop on Alpha and query Ground” This will help us to change the mindset of being cleared across all runways that we encounter instead of expecting to hold short.
It will also be even more important to stay outside the cockpit and stay focused on the task of taxiing. Programming the GPS, running checklists, even chatting with passengers are all distractions that are easily controlled. If your passengers are talking to you while taxiing, try using the “Isolate” function found on many audio panels. This should be part of the pre taxi passenger briefing – Tell your passengers that you are not being rude but you have to pay attention to the radio and will be back to them after takeoff.
This change will also increase radio traffic making it even more important for us to listen carefully. Previously, a controller could issue one transmission to clear an aircraft to taxi along a lengthy route. Now, for example, if you are taxiing to a departure runway and must cross three runways to get there, you must stop at each runway intersection and wait for clearance from a controller before proceeding. Three runways means you must receive three separate crossing instructions. In addition, the aircraft must have cleared the previous runway before another crossing clearance can be issued. Each one of the runway crossing clearances will have to be transmitted to and acknowledged by the pilot. Expect and plan for delays at busy airports.
Use whatever aids that you have to help with ground navigation. Even though I fly aircraft with GPS and moving map displays, I still like an 8 ½ X 11 printout of the airport diagram in hand. I print out the diagram in advance and write or draw the taxi clearance right on the chart. Toss it when you are done.
And if you do mess up, file a NASA ASRS report.