Monday, January 14, 2008

Taxiing in Chicago

Yesterday we were at Chicago O'hare's airport (KORD). Hopefully I have remembered the events accurately. I have been a pilot for 15 years, and our getting our airplane successfully around this airport was a real challenge!

To explain, we were parked at the Fixed Base Operator, which is marked on this diagram as the FBO Ramp on the right side. Can you find it? Click on the picture or on this link:, which will open larger.

Our company actually let us know right off the bat that we were supposed to taxi on LL short of V to call ground. This means that we first tune the ATIS frequency (135.4) to hear the prerecorded departure information (weather and runway info). ATIS said to call Ground Metering on 121.67 - this is a busy airport and this is how airplanes get in line. There wasn't a delay, so Metering told us to "Taxi Lima Lima, Hold Short of Victor, MONITOR Ground 121.9." Monitor means tune the frequency, but don't call them, wait for the Air Traffic Controllers to call you with instructions.

Ground called and said that our runway was 22L, so go LL to MM, hold short of 27L. Now, it would be fine if you had all the time in the world to mosey on over, but there are airplanes moving all over the place and we all are "metered" into the traffic flow. So we get to holding short of 27L - awaiting the landing airplanes. There are radio calls going back and forth all over the place so we have to listen closely so we can hear our call sign.

All of a sudden they call us again, "Cleared across 27L, take Bravo across the bridge, hold short of A21, call 121.75." This is another Ground Frequency because the airport is so big. Not only do you have to remember what the directions are - I usually write them down - you have to check the airport diagram to confirm which way you need to turn. Controllers sometimes speak very quickly because they assume you have been to their airport before and know which way to go to the runway (it is a good idea to set up your instruments for the runway before ever leaving parking so you know the general direction).

Yes, we had to cross a bridge! We got to the other side and there was a huge commercial airliner being pushed back from its gate right into us. We stayed out of their way, and soon heard our call sign and "Follow the Airliner to Alpha, take A18 to Delta all the way to 22L." Meanwhile, there are other airplanes taxiing too, so you have to pay attention - do you wait for the airplane already on the taxiway, or are you supposed to be first? Usually they'll tell you if you have to yield to someone else - there are no red/green lights!

Finally, we make it to the end of the departure runway, switch to tower frequency and await instructions to taxi onto the runway and get cleared for takeoff. Whew!

Yes, it was very hectic. It should be noted that taxiing is a very critical phase of a flight (this is why people should keep their seatbelts fastened until the "Captain turns off the fasten seatbelt sign"), because there are many so chances for mistakes; turning the wrong way, forgetting or misinterpreting instructions, night/poor visibility conditions.... The Federal Aviation Administration is doing everything they can do prevent accidents - it's been in the news quite a bit. It every crewmembers' responsibility to keep her head up and keep situational awareness. If a pilot doesn't understand the instructions, it is completely appropriate to ask the controller to repeat. Even if she gets upset at a pilot taking up the busy radio time. The implications can be bad, legally (a pilot can lose her license for a violation) or safety wise (airplanes have accidently taxiied onto active runways).

All in a day of the life of a pilot.

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