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Assume the Position ... Carefully

At airports with an operating control tower it is vital that we protect ourselves after being given “position and hold” instructions.At airports with an operating control tower it is vital that we protect ourselves after being given “position and hold” instructions. Sometimes when the traffic load is high, a pilot waiting to takeoff will be told to “Taxi into position and hold on runway 32.” This means: “Get ready. Get set. But don’t go.”

What’s Going On?
The controller cannot issue the takeoff clearance yet because the runway is not clear yet. Either an airplane has just landed or taken off on your runway or a crossing runway. The controller is actually buying time. They can’t let you go yet, but they want you ready to go on a moment’s notice. This is good time management for the controllers, but is it in the pilot’s best interest?

When an airplane is in position on the runway, the pilot’s back is turned to any airplanes that might be approaching that runway. It is a very nervous feeling to know that airplanes are bearing down on you from behind while you just sit there waiting. During those long seconds you wonder if the controller has forgotten about you, or if you missed your takeoff instruction. You literally become a sitting duck -- at night it is even worse. The distraction might cause you to miss a pre-takeoff checklist item – like “boost pump on.” How can you reduce this risk?

When the controller tells you to go “position and hold” they do not tell you how fast to get into position. Therefore roll out slowly with ALL your exterior lights on. Cross the hold line and enter the runway at a snail’s pace. Positioning slowly will allow you to look back in the direction of inbound traffic longer regardless of your aircraft’s type. Done properly, the slow taxi time will equal the takeoff delay and the controller will issue the takeoff clearance without you ever having to completely turn your back on inbound aircraft. Caution: Even aircraft with rear-facing windows have restricted visibility, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by all that Plexiglas back there. The best view is an unobstructed view -- use your common sense and aircraft type to maintain one as long as you can.

KEEP IN MIND: Regardless of whether or not there is a control tower in operation, keep all delays on the runway to an absolute minimum. Position and hold is not a good place to complete checklists or carry on conversations. ...And do *not* taxi onto a runway without every airplane light turned on -- day or night.

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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