Study Guide:Ground

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Ground is responsible for all movements of aircraft on ground, except the movements on the runway. Ground takes over responsibility for Delivery if he is not online.

What is Ground's job?

  • Most aircraft (especially the large ones) have only very limited view. They cannot look back, and they can easily miss out a little Cessna under their nose in front of them. Therefore, Ground has to guide rolling aircraft as if they were (alsmost) blind.
  • No aircraft knows, where to dock after landing. Therefore, Ground assigns gates to go to.
  • No aircraft knows exactly, from where to take off. In fact, only Tower knows, but Ground is responsible to queue departing aircraft in the appropriate order.
  • There are no fixed directions on where to taxi on an airport, and taxiways are too narrow to have traffic in both directions. Therefore, it is Ground's responsibility to maintain a traffic flow to avoid nasty nose-to-nose situations which (in real life) need a pushback car to resolve.

Your responsibility is strict: if you allow a plane to do something, the pilot can do without looking either way - you have to be sure the way is clear.

How can Ground do this?

  • by issuing approvals: If Ground says "... approved" then the pilot knows: He is allowed to do it in reasonable time. He does not need to do it in this very second. An approval contains "approved". Startup is an approval, as the pilot needs to follow his checklist before doing it. Pushback is an approval too.
  • by issuing commands: A command does NOT use "approved" - it orders the pilot to perform a specific action. If he can't (because one engine just failed) he has to report. Caution: Commands are also clearances, and that means, that a pilot may follow the instruction without looking anywhere else (except straight ahead maybe).

How to set up Ground's job

  1. First, contact your upstream controller and enquire the runway configuration: Where will departing aircraft take off and arriving aircraft land? You might need intermediate conversation, so you better "sit" in the same teamspeak room as your Tower.
  2. Second: make a plan on how to circle traffic: Which taxiway will you want to use which way to queue departing aircraft where? Which taxiways will you use for arriving aircraft? The trick is to have a pattern in mind that minimizes conflicts: The less crossings you have, the less you will have to pay attention on crashes. There is more information for specific airports LOWW (Vienna) and LOWI (Innsbruck).
  3. Third: Go online and do it.

How to make Ground's life easy

There is a simple rule on how to make Ground's life easy: Make it easy for pilots. Imagine, they have just landed, they can't find their ground chart, still brake and retract and steer, and then you issue a taxi clearance that is 6 items long? Forget it. The less you order, the easier it is for them, and the easier it is for you.

How can you put this into practice? With a good traffic plan: How can traffic flow on your airport to have the least turns and the least conflicts? There are examples on the LOWW_Primer page on how to do it. A good traffic plan is the art of Ground staffing.


Basic principles

The basic principles for Radio Telephony apply:

  • You have first contact, you have messages with established contact, you have handover.
  • You are responsible for all aircraft acting under your clearance or approval. If you have issued "pushback approved", then the space behind him is blocked in your mind - you must not clear anyone else to go into. If the guy does not push back and you want another aircraft taxi through, then you have to withdraw the pushback clearance.
  • You are also responsible if anyone makes a mess and aircraft in contact with you have a problem with it: If a pilot takes a wrong turn, you have to act. This means: You have to monitor, if pilots comply.

Making contact

The pilot says hello by stating: Who, where, and the request:

AUA125: Wien Ground, servus. Austrian 125, Foxtrot 05 requesting Pushback.
GND: Austrian 125, Wien Ground. Pushback approved.
AUA125: Push approved, Austrian 125.

Start-up clearance

Start-up clearance can be given if no other aircraft is taxiing behind the starting-up aircraft and if the take-off is expected in 20 minutes or less.

Austrian 125, start-up approved, (Temperature Minus 3)

Push-back clearance

Push-back clearance can be given if no other aircraft is passing behind and the parking position requires push-back.

Austrian 125, push-back approved

Push-back is an approval - pilots are free to do it whenever they are ready. This means two things:

1. It could take a while. This means: In busy conditions, you can't let that happen. For example, a pilot may be taxiing behind an aircraft which is slow to push back, creating an unwanted scenario.

Several options are available to solve this problem:

Austrian 125, immediate push-back approved.

(the pilot has to say "unable" if they still require time to program their FMC.)

Austrian 125, startup approved, call for push with running engines

(the pilot is ready for push and will have their engines already running prior to pushback.)

2. It also means, that the space behind the aircraft is reserved in your mind, as the Pilot may push whenever he is ready. You won't clear anyone to taxi behind this aircraft.

If the guy fell asleep instead of pushing, and you want another aircraft taxiing by, you have to cancel the pushback approval:

GND: Austrian 123, hold position, pushback cancelled (Aircraft taxiing behind).
AUA123: Holding position, Austrian 123.

Then you can clear anyone else to pass behind, and you have to issue a new pushback approval.

Combination of both phrases

During low traffic you can use these two phrases together

Austrian 125, start(-up) and push(-back) approved

Taxi Instructions

Bear in mind: Taxi instructions are clearances, that means: The pilot must and will do it regardless of other things - they don't have a great amount of choice. Don't clear anyone for taxiing around, without knowing that the path is safe for the aircraft. Aircraft won't stop at junctions and look left or right, so it's your job to ensure that pilots are aware of when to stop, or where to expect other aircraft.

The pilot will push back and start the aircraft's engines. As soon as he is ready for taxi they will call you:

AUA125: AUA125, ready for taxi.

Depending on traffic you can give him the taxi instruction to his departure runway:

GND: AUA125, taxi to holding point Rwy 16 via taxiline35, L and W, QNH 1019.
AUA125: Taxiing to holding point runway 16 via taxiline35, L and W, AUA125.

So, how do you maintain traffic flow at a busy airport, and still maintain safety? There are some options:

First is to clear the aircraft all the way, for the vacant path: "taxi to exit 32". "Taxi on E until intersection B4". But this is time-consuming and you loose overview, therefore creating unnecessary delays.

Second, and more elegant is the hold short argument:

GND: AUA125, hold short of taxiway L.
AUA125: Holding short of L, AUA125.

This means: The aircraft is cleared all the way to the holding point, but has to "hold short" (=to stop) in mid way for a condition which you specify. After that (that's the elegant part), they continues as cleared without further instructions.

  • This could be only to "hold short" --> until you tell they "continue".
  • It could be "give way to crossing B737 from your left to your right" --> the pilot will stop, wait for a passing 737 and continue.
  • It could be "follow company B737 taxiing on L" --> the pilot will look out for a B737 of his own airline and follow them.
  • It could be anything else, provided that the pilot is able to do it, like 1 minute or whatever.

The "Hold short" argument puts some burden on the pilot: They must judge if they can meet the conditions given. If you tell a B747 to follow a C172, he might likely say "unable", as he is simply unable to see the small aircraft under his nose. As a controller, it is no good idea to tell pilots something they can't do (i.e. look behind) - pilots might oversee it and - bang.

Bear in mind that it is controllers' job to decide on wingspan room. Aircraft will taxi, and if you don't look out, this happens. If in doubt (as on VATSIM, you usually only have a scope and no window), warn the pilot and ask if he is able to pass without hitting anything.

At VATSIM, you sometimes meet pilots who apparently don't have charts and/or lose orientation - especially when it is dark and the scenery is bad. If a pilot starts sight-seeing, you can tell them to stop ("hold position") and to "expect progressive taxi", and that means: you taxi him step by step, and they is instructed to stop at every step. This is a good means to guide a lost aircraft around.

When an aircraft is approaching its assigned holding-point (and clear of possible traffic-conflict) a hand-off to next higher position (i.e. TWR) shall be initiated as soon as the aircraft is conflict-free in your area of responsibility. This means, if no other aircraft can be in the way on his way to the runway. Example for LOWW: Suppose, rwy29 is for departure. GND will line up all aircraft on taxiway M facing East, and TWR will pick them from there. Hand them over to TWR as soon as they approach the queue.

GND:AUA125, contact now Salzburg Tower on frequency 118.10, bye bye!
AUA125:contacting Tower on frequency 118,10 bye!

Air-taxiing is the Movement of a helicopter / VTOL above the surface of an aerodrome, normally in ground effect and at a ground speed of normally less than 20 KT (37 km/h). Please Note: The actual height may vary, and some helicopters may require air-taxiing above 25 FT (8 m) AGL to reduce ground effect turbulence or provide clearance for cargo sling loads.

OEATD: request air taxi to Runway 29.
GND: OEATD, contact TWR for further instructions.
OEATD: Servus Wien Tower, request air taxi to Runway 29 via Exit 13 and M.
TWR: OEATD, air taxi to Runway 29 via Exit 13 and M. wind 280 deg 5 knots
OEATD: air taxi to Runway 29 via M.

Ground Traffic Management

Bear in mind, that it is GND's job that they can taxi freely. If an aircraft has clearance, it can roll without looking anywhere else than straight ahead. You must see if the way is clear. But on a busy evening, you will have 5-10 aircraft taxiing at the same time. How you do this so that they don't bump into each other? It's called Ground Traffic Management.

To organize the traffic on ground different techniques are available, some of them relying on the pilots seeing each other. Generally you should avoid clearing two aircraft onto crossing pathways, unless you are sure they will never meet each other. To achieve this you should instruct aircraft to hold short of taxiways in the way stated above.

There are a few tools which you can use:

Taxiway configurations

Only one aircraft can taxi on a taxiway, so you have to order the traffic flow. On larger airports, you set the rules where outbound and where inbound aircraft roll. For LOWW, there is a nice document by Patrick Hrusa (thanks!). For LOWI, there is a nice LOWI_Primer by Claus and Hermann.

Step-by-step clearance

A very secure, but time-consuming way to control. Clear the aircraft only as far as it is definitely clear:

GND: AUA251, taxi to intersection M via E.
GND: AUA251, taxi to Exit 9 via M.
GND: AUA251, taxi to gate D21 via Exit 9.

You need a lot of time and patience for this, and with more traffic, you will end up in an overload soon.

Conditional clearance

This provides much more flow, but you have to think in advance. See, which aircraft approach to where and give one of them a conditional clearance to stop some point and give way. Make sure that the condition is clear: a specific intersection, a precise plane from a precise direction, like this:

GND: AUA251, taxi to gate D21 via E, M and Exit 9, hold short M for company A320 turning on M from your right.

"Conditional clearance" means: AUA251 is free to taxi until its final clearance limit (D21), but stops inbetween until the condition is met, in this case: another Austrian A320 taxiing (presumably on D) and turning in before him. Then, he is free to continue without instruction. "Hold short" means: You are cleared to your destination, but you should stop inbetween.

Intermediate instructions

Sometimes, things go differently as expected: Aircraft stop to sort out checklists, or they speed up. You might need to re-clear or stop the plane, like:

GND: AUA251, hold position, say again: hold position
GND: AUA251, continue.
GND: AUA251, hold short intersection W for a B190 crossing from your right to your left.
GND: AUA251, gate change, taxi to gate F1 via M, Exit 12 and taxilane 34, hold short Exit 12 and give way to B737 crossing from left to right.

Progressive Taxi

Some pilots don't know how to taxi, and some don't know where to taxi, and they can drive you mad. To them, you can issue progressive taxi instructions:

GND: Leipzig Air 600, hold position, expect progressive taxi.
GND: Leipzig Air 600, turn next left hold next intersection.
GND: Leipzig Air 600, turn right, on third intersection left and hold.

Consider the following situation:

You are the Ground Controller at Vienna Airport. Runways active are 34 for landing and 29 for departure. DLH6KM has vacated rwy 34 and requests taxi to its parking position. LZB421 is ready for taxi at stand B84.
GND:DLH6KM taxi to stand C40 via taxiway D and L.
DLH6KM:Taxiing to stand C40 via D and L, DLH6KM.
LZB421:Wien ground LZB421 stand B84, ready for taxi.
GND:LZB421, taxi taxiway M, hold short of taxiway L.
LZB421:taxiing via W holding short of L.
The aircraft are now both approaching the intersection L/W.
GND:LZB421, give way to the DLH B737 crossing left to right on L, thereafter continue
taxi to holding point runway 29 via taxiways Exit 2, M and A1.
LZB421:Giving way to the 737 from left to right, then continuing taxi to holding point
runway 29 via Exit 2, M and A1.

Of course you have to make sure that this instruction is unambiguous, so there shouldn't be two DLH B737s in the area. Also in low visibility operations this procedure might not work very well, in this case you might have to give the aircraft the instruction to continue taxi when the other aircraft has passed. In some cases it is also useful to let one aircraft follow the other:

GND:LZB421, follow the Austrian DASH 8 crossing you right to left on M to holding point runway 29.
LZB421:following the DASH 8 crossing us right to left on M to holding point runway 29.

Intersection departure

Some flights do not need the whole length of their given departure runway so they might request takeoff from an intersection somewhere down the runway. This procedure is called a intersection takeoff. You should only grant this in coordination with Tower and if traffic situation permits. Also at some airports intersections are used to be more flexible in the departure sequence (see section Departure Seperation).

Special Situations (High Traffic, Slots, ...)


In case the above mentioned slot regulations are in force ground has the responsibility to set up a departure sequence in a way that the aircraft do not miss their slot.

Opposite runway operations

At some austrian airports it is very common to use opposite runway configurations (departure and arrival runway are opposite to each other). In these situations it can happen very fast that you have two aircraft facing each other nose to nose. Special attention should be paid to avoid this situation.

Mind the wingtip: Size matters to GND controllers

As GND controller, you have to watch out for the size of an aircraft. You have two indications for the aircraft size in Euroscope: The Letter "L/M/H/S" in the flight strip, and the precise aircraft type in the departure list or tag - an abbreviation which you might need to google, but you will learn over time.

  • Light aircraft (L) need to go to stands, not to docks (you won't want to dock a Cessna, will you?). But "light" is not "light" - on some GAC aprons the aircraft has to be really light, especially when it comes to grass surface. Watch out to the aircraft type.
(A Cessna 172 taxiing in front of an A330:) Tower, confirm I should taxi before the Speedbird A330?
(Tower, smiling:) Confirmed, she's not hungry.
  • Medium aircraft have a different trouble: Some of them (like the Beech 99, the Dash or the Avro RJ are medium, but they need stands. Others, not much bigger, like the Fokker 70 or 100, can dock at the gate, whereas others (like the A319), only a little bigger, usually dock. In doubt: ask the pilot. The medium category goes up to the most-frequent cruisers A320 and B737.
  • Heavy aircraft are (almost) everything above: A330, B757, B767 and B747, the MD11 and the new B787. They almost exclusively dock, but there is another risk: Not all docks are suitable for heavies - ground charts tell you more. Look here to Vienna to see where you can park which birds.
  • Superheavy aircraft is in fact only one: The A380. There are no suitable docks for A380's in Austria - they park on large stands. Take care with those albatrosses when issuing taxi instructions: Many taxiways (like L in Vienna) are simply not made for this wingspan. [This] could happen.

as hint for parking, you could use follow flow Chart:

Parking Flow chart.jpg

More Information

If you really want to study hard, then read the relevant sections for GND in the official radio telephony guide from Austrocontrol.

A really good index (and much more orderly is here at Eurocontrol.

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