Citation on ramp
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An arriving Falcon is marshaled to the FBO’s number two spot next to a King Air with both engines running.  The Falcon tri-jet crew wisely makes the safe decision to delay opening their door since the turboprop parked to their left would surely taxi momentarily.

With a ceremonial appearance of diligence, and a near total lack of situational awareness, the Beechcraft King Air pilots spend the next 15 minutes holding the adjacent aircraft captive before finally getting underway.  It is the longest fifteen minutes of the day for passengers on both airplanes.  Pilots and passengers still in the lobby must also wait until the coast is clear, no doubt wishing the turboprop crew had taken their procedures to the runup area.

King Air 200

The King Air pilots spend the next 15 minutes holding the adjacent aircraft captive before finally getting underway.

Suppose the newly arriving crew made a different decision and opened the air stair door once their engines spooled down.  Deplaning passengers could then choose between walking behind the King Air, being blasted by cooked kerosene and prop wash, or passing in front of spinning propellers.  Both alternatives feature avoidable risk, driven by the psychology of general frustration.

If this example were an isolated occurrence, perhaps the result of an aircraft system fault or other problem discovered after engine start, a delay is understandable.  But variations of this story occur daily on FBO ramps and frustrated observers are left wondering why the airplanes can’t seem to get moving.

A surge in demand for private air travel has created boom times for manufacturing, maintaining, training, and operating business aircraft.  This has been particularly good news for aspiring professional pilots and rapid advancement is commonplace. Progressing from new hire to pilot in command might now be a matter of months rather than years.  Without reasonable time in a structured environment with an experienced mentor, new pilots miss exposure to the subtleties of professional courtesy.  And training organizations do not include ramp operations in the rigorous syllabus for type training and testing. Needlessly incinerating jet fuel while on the ground makes a mockery of our industry’s effort to become more sustainable.  And it makes sense to avoid ramp conflicts while reducing passenger and FBO employee exposure to obvious risks. A readily available opportunity for improvement on both fronts lies in checklist design.

G280 on ground

A readily available opportunity for improvement in ramp etiquette lies in checklist design.

Taking short cuts or skipping steps is not acceptable or suggested.  Instead, take a hard look at your checklist organization, acknowledging that most are written by OEM attorneys who rarely optimize task flow for daily operations.  These legacy tomes develop a life of their own because of reluctance to assume responsibility for changing the sequence of required tasks. Consider checklist studies done by industry sources and add deep operational experience and work to improve the document.  Safety is enhanced when a checklist makes sense to the crew, rather than feeling like a top-down edict from a faceless source that does not routinely fly the airplane.  For commercial operators, do not hesitate to present a proposed revision to your Principal Operations Inspectors, especially if they have meaningful experience in type.

The Before Start checklist can be long, but the After Start/Before Taxi section should be short. Recording ATIS and your clearance should be accomplished well before engines are running.  There likely are other items on your current After Start/Before Taxi litany that can be safely accomplished later without compromising runway incursion vigilance.  Like on an uncrowded taxiway, penalty box, or designated runup area.

If a flight control check is accomplished before taxi, it can be invalidated by wind driven debris, ice, or FOD encounters that happen during taxi to the runway.  Investigators opined that an unfortunate jet freighter mishap caused by a jammed elevator may have been avoided if flight control checks had been performed just prior to takeoff, rather than in the parking stand as directed by that operator’s checklist.

For our passengers, the flight begins when the door is closed and their confinement commences.  They are traveling with you to save time and should not be left wondering why the engines are whining but they are not going anywhere. A useful benchmark is the typical airline flight with movement beginning as soon as the tug is clear and engines are running.  Once your engines are stable and running, please get off the ramp.

Ken Ambrose
Latest posts by Ken Ambrose (see all)
20 replies
  1. Josh
    Josh says:

    A discussion of movement and non-movement areas at towered airports would also help. Many pilots are afraid to taxi away from their parking area without taxi clearance. When possible, I always liked getting out of the parking area first then working out the taxi clearance (assuming there is enough ramp space to do so). At some airports, there is no way to do this without blocking the taxiway for inbound aircraft . . . . . so as you stated, it takes experience. Thank-you for your article, it will be helpful for many!

  2. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    This can be problematic for student who are training as well. I completed my CSEL and CFI certificates at a large metro airport where I would often find myself stuck behind larger aircraft conducting their run-ups on the taxiway, rather than in a run-up area. Paying around $290 an hour, over the course of my training, I probably spent $1200 $1500 more than I needed waiting in line for other aircraft to do the checks they could have performed elsewhere.

    • Scott Felton
      Scott Felton says:

      Excellent point. As it turns out, proper ramp courtesy is actually a balance of factors depending on the circumstances. For example, the crew of a complex jet may want to check some systems in the chocks if they are common problem areas or associated with recent maintenance to avoid a return to the ramp for something they could have known before taxiing. In GA singles, my habit is to check flight controls both before engine start and at the run up area. I suspect Ken’s point is that pilots need to have as high SA on the ramp as we do in the air, considering our own circumstances and those around us, then anticipate and adapt to those conditions.

  3. John Timothy Byrd, Sr.
    John Timothy Byrd, Sr. says:

    This is definitely problematic, but in other ways as well…Standard Operating Procedures and the proper sequential running of the after start checklist BEFORE

      • John Timothy Byrd, Sr.
        John Timothy Byrd, Sr. says:

        the aircraft moves for taxi. I was actually accused in a former life by fellow crewmembers of not running checklists because we cranked, taxied out of the way of other aircraft over to the edge of the ramp before finalizing setup for flight and running the checklist prior to taxi there. It’s a firestorm of cross-purposes, and few there are that will take the risk of ire from the company and the FAA to “violate procedure” to be courteous, even if to other planes for the same company, much less the competition.

        Aviation is, above all, a cover your 6 proposition.

  4. Scott Felton
    Scott Felton says:

    Excellent article and comments. Ken, correct me to 100%, but I believe your point is that we should strive to have as high SA on the ramp as we do in the air, and thoughtfully anticipate and adapt our actions to the circumstances. No different than the way we interpret and adapt to traffic pattern flow (or “zipper” into merging lanes on the road), just with different factors to consider.

  5. Dave Despain
    Dave Despain says:

    Ahhhh. We can only be talking about the company that also taxis and turns into ramps at takeoff thrust

    The ramp menace known as Wheels Up

    Seeing the atrocious ramp etiquette one can only conclude it’s a failure of their training program

  6. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Is the author aware of King Air operations? Or just a grumpy jet pilot using this platform to complain about his recent encounter with a King Air? It is certainly not a bad idea to start a discussion on proper ramp etiquette, especially with some King Air operators who seem to take longer than others, but only roasting King Air guys without a real look into the problem is at the very least unfair, and at the most, a lack of quality journalism.
    Let us take a real look at the problem. The main issue for the King Air in general is a lack of an APU. At our company we have a mix of King Airs and Citation Sovereigns. When flying the King Air, our Captains get the clearance beforehand (in a roasting hot airplane in summer) and run pre-flight cockpit checks, but then have to turn off the power to save the batteries. Once passengers arrive, we turn on batteries, start engines, and then turn on avionics. After that, of course, while performing other tasks that have to happen every flight, we wait for GPS and system initialization, input flight plans that drop on power off, and verify everything has been performed correctly. Then leave chocks. At minimum, this is going to take 5-8 minutes for an experienced captain. If it is a newer captain, it will take longer. (Please remember the King Air can be a single pilot aircraft.) While I agree that some two-crew King Air operators seem to take way too long, and all operators should get ATIS/clearance beforehand, the King Air is handicapped from the start because of the APU issue and system initialization time. To write an entire article blasting King Airs for running for 15 minutes without mentioning the crux of the issue, sounds like the author doesn’t actually understand the issue.
    Additionally, if the main issue here is ramp etiquette because of noise pollution on the ramp, let’s start a conversation about Jets that run their APU for an hour or more. For our Sovereigns, we plan to start the APU 30 minutes before passengers arrive to perform all the checks, get the clearance, input flight plan, and routinely finish with 15 minutes to spare (when the plane avionics cooperate and we don’t have any erroneous messages that require a hard reset). 30 minutes of APU is clearly significantly more than 15 for a King Air. And for us, that’s on a good day. What about those days where the passengers don’t actually show up when they say they will? (We all know those types of passengers.) There are days we are forced to run the APU for an hour or more because the passengers end up being late without proper communion to crew that they will be late. In those cases, the King Air only runs engines after the passengers have arrived, the APU jet runs until the passengers arrive.
    I also realize that maybe the author is more concerned about the spinning props rather than the noise pollution. If that is the case, how about just leading the passengers against the other row of planes in front of the prop? Or give it a good 50 ft in front and call it good if there isn’t another row in front?
    Overall, I don’t disagree that it would be good to start a discussion, but overall, how can you blame the King Air that ONLY runs for 15 minutes, and only starts their noise after passengers are already onboard, versus most jets that run their APU until passengers show up? And how can you write an article about the issue without even mentioning the APU difference? I am not saying I hit all of the issues comparing the KingAir/Jet difference, but for an article entitled “Better ramp etiquette is needed,” certainly a lot of things were left out, and the King Air was left in the crosshairs without proper journalism to have the audience actually understand the issue. All that was done was convince the audience King Air pilots are terrible and insensitive to others on the ramp.

    • Leo
      Leo says:

      Good points about APU on big kerosene burners vs the King Air…spent a number of years around KAs on the Ramp and US Army and being a A$P myself….these points are well taken by this lowly 900 hr pilot

  7. Jake
    Jake says:

    “Needlessly incinerating jet fuel while on the ground makes a mockery of our industry’s effort to become more sustainable.”
    You turned me off there.

    • Bibocas
      Bibocas says:

      Of course there are ways (more than one) to make briefings and even waiting for the “lazzy” costumers without consuming fuel and acting in a non courteous way with the others and just “defending” the “poor” pilots of King Airs. What a shame for the comercial aviation.
      Too much talk and no real indication of reasons for that “defense”.
      Clearly who assumes that position hasn’t been in a court.

  8. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Beechcraft’s lawyers will never allow a major change to their checklists. There’s no money in it and it represents considerable risk should the new one cause some sort of damage or injury.

    They’d prefer to foist that risk onto their customers.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      “Lawyers”??? Actually checklists are FAA approved documents and to go making changing to them will get you in some serious issues if they become involved. On a proving flight in a B-757 in GRR we ere ‘grounded’ till an identical, yet “approved” checklist could be faxed to us with the proper part number/approval/revision on it. The inspector was correct and on the next leg he apologized for having to ‘dot the I’s and cross the T’s”. Frankly I found this column a poorly thought-through exploration of the topic with poorly constructed ‘root-cause’ analysis and corrective actions.

  9. Bill Heaphy
    Bill Heaphy says:

    Many years ago a now defunct non-sked operator was ready to taxi off the gate when a late passenger was spotted in the gate area. Captain told the FA to drop the airstair and board the pax. She refused. Flight Engineer was then ordered to do the same. He also refused. Captain now losing face rushed back and dropped the airstairs. The horrified passengers on the LH side of the aircraft witnessed the late passenger run into the spinning #1 propeller. Where do we get such men???

  10. Karrpilot
    Karrpilot says:

    I was waiting in line to get fuel, while a student was getting up and down a ladder, sticking the tanks. And taking his sweet time doing so.

    Not only was he doing this at a snails pace, he was going back and forth with his tablet in the aircraft! Making sure his numbers were right.

    This is something to be done BEFORE pulling up to the one and only fuel pump.


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