• Airport manoeuvring area: Are there any traffic lights up in the air?

Did you know there are 100,000 flights a day? It is therefore necessary to have a manoeuvring area at airports. But what is it exactly? But how is activity developed in this area?

In the area of manoeuvers at airports or airfields, coordination is milimetrical between pilots and air controllers. Routes can thus be made in the most direct way guaranteeing the strict separation between aircraft.

For example, at the international airport of Malaga, which is One Air’s operations base, during the summer months, there are over 700 daily operations… That’s a landing or take-off every 90 seconds! Can you imagine what it would be like if there wasn’t a strict procedure to organise all this traffic?

What is the manoeuvring area and which zones are part of it?

Although to the untrained eye, the area surrounding an airport may look the same, it is in fact, very different.

As it is usually the case in aviation, everything is well organised and defined scrupulously; thus, in the manoeuvring area of an airport, we can separate two main large areas.

Manoeuvring Area

This is the area at the airport that aeroplanes use for taxiing, take off and landing, platforms are therefore excluded.

Movement Area

This part of the airfield is destined for taxiing, take off and landing of aircraft but include manoeuvring area and platforms. That is, the manoeuvring area is within the movement area.

Safety distance between aeroplanes in the manoeuvring area

At airports, aeroplanes taking off and landing must ensure there is a minimum separation between them in order to set safety margins in case of an emergency as well as to minimise wake turbulence.

These separations can be established either in terms of a minimum distance or time between each aeroplane. In order to determine this, three categories of aircraft are given:

  • Lightweight (L) under 7000 kg. For example, a Diamond DA42.
  • Medium (M) between 7000 and 136,000 kg. For example, an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737.
  • Heavy (H) over 136,000 kg. For example, a Boeing B777.
  • Super (S), an Airbus A380.
Safety distance between aircraft in the manoeuvring area
Preceding aircraftFollowing aircraftMinimum spacingMinimum exit clearance
SuperMedium9,3 Km / 5 NM3 minutes
SuperLight14,8 Km / 8NM3 minutes
HeavyHeavy7,4 km / 4 NM2 minutes
HeavyMedium9,3 km / 5 NM2 minutes
HeavyLight11,1km / 6 NM2 minutes
MediumLight9,3 Km / 5 NM2 minutes

Who has manoeuvring priority whilst flying

In the same way as in roads, in the air, not all aircraft have the same right of way. This priority is established based on the urgency and manoeuvrability of aircraft.

  1. The highest priority is given to emergency aeroplanes.
  2. After them, hot air balloons, given their low manoeuvrability.
  3. In third place, manoeuvrability corresponds to planners, as they do not have an engine, their flying time is limited.
  4. Following is a priority group formed by refuelling and towing operations.
  5. Finally, we have hovercrafts.

When aeroplanes approach an airport to land, they have higher priority than those which are lower. In the same way, when various aeroplanes have to wait for a controller to sequence them, the first one to get there is who gets the lowest altitude.

Who has manoeuvring priority at an airport

At airports, emergency vehicles, handlers, pushbacks and aircraft share space. It is therefore essential, for correct functioning and to guarantee safety, to know who has the right of way or priority over others.

  • Emergency vehicles have the highest priority.
  • Vehicles as well as aeroplanes taxiing at the airport must give way to vehicles being towed.
  • Vehicles in general, must give way to aeroplanes.
  • Both vehicles and aeroplanes on land must give way to aeroplanes landing or ready for take off.
  • When two aeroplanes come together, the one furthest to the right has the right of way.
  • If two aircraft are nose to nose, they will wait until an air traffic controller instructs them to continue.

Evasion manoeuvre in the air

There are a myriad of systems to prevent two aeroplanes coming too close in flight: air controllers have radars; aeroplanes have transponders to show their position in real time; and commercial aeroplanes have a coordination system amongst aeroplanes that tell pilots what manoeuvre to carry out.

But still, if all systems failed (which is practically impossible) and two aeroplanes coincided flying in opposite directions but at the same height, pilots know both must swerve right.

This is what is called evasion manoeuvre in mid-air; and yes, that’s right, as you can see, in aviation, absolutely nothing is left to fate.

The manoeuvring area in an airport is essential for safety

Pilots knowing the priority ground passage rules is essential for safe and efficient operations. This is why the subject of operational procedures is present, both in private licence courses or PPL as well as in commercial pilot’s ATPL courses.

We hope this article has helped you to learn a little more about how to deal with manoeuvres at an airport, so that the next time you see two aeroplanes approaching a junction, you’ll know which one has the right of way.

And if you’d like to go on learning and discovering new curiosities, don’t miss all the interesting topics we deal with in our aviation blog.

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