Plane Taxiing – how to Taxi an Aircraft like a Pro

Plane Taxiing: Taxiing an aircraft with efficiency and good habits will not only go a long way to reduce the chance of a taxiing incident, but it will also save money in brake wear. There are many factors to taxi operations and you can find out about them here.


The definition of airmanship is ‘skill in flying an aircraft’ however to fly an aircraft first takes taxiing to the runway, so is not limited to ‘flying.’ When it comes to taxiing an aircraft safely, a pilot’s vigilance is paramount but ensuring the correct focus takes practise and skill. Never assume that because you are moving slower that your responsibility can reduce as well. You need to watch the shop until your job is done.

You can reduce the chance of being in a taxiing incident by developing good habits from the start and getting a ‘feel’ for the space that you are moving around in. To taxi like a pro you need to consider many skills and challenges which you can learn more about if you keep reading!

taxiing, runway
It is important to know how and where to look outside while taxiing, because that is where you will develop the perspective and awareness.

Why is it called taxiing?

If you have ever wondered why an aircraft moving around an airport is called taxiing, then you are about to be enlightened! The term ‘taxiing’1 is not exclusive to the inner sanctum of aviation, in fact anyone with a heartbeat knows it. Popular belief is that the word comes from ancient Greek and means ‘taking payment for transport in a car.’ An aircraft needs to get from a parked position to the runway (or open space in the old days) and back again.

It is believed around 100 years ago when student pilots were practising take-off and landing, but slowly at first, observers joked that the aircraft looked like ‘taxicabs’. Hence, the word ‘taxiing’ stuck but with it comes challenges and its own specific airmanship behaviors.

“While the passengers are already dozing or observing the hustle and bustle at the airport, the cockpit is a scene of the utmost concentration: to get the aircraft to leave its parking position at the gate, a special pushback vehicle is needed to reverse it onto the tarmac, usually with the help of special rods attached to the nose wheel. Only when there’s enough space for the aircraft to start taxiing forward is the pushback vehicle uncoupled. From that point on, the pilot steers the aircraft to the runway. This is a challenge—not only because of the wingspan, but also because of the many regulations that have to be observed during taxiing.”

Why do aircraft taxiing accidents occur?

The complexity of taking an aircraft off up to 200mph, flying through the air opposing gravity, and returning to land at up to 200mph would lend itself to a sense of safety if an aircraft is moving slowly. It is possible that being safely on the ground creates a perceived sense of relief and attachment, letting the guard down that opens a window for complacency. A pilot’s attentiveness must begin prior to aircraft start and does not finish until the aircraft is stopped and the aircraft shut down with procedures complete.

An additional risk factor when taxiing is radio congestion with air traffic controllers (ATC), pilots, the combination of aircraft, airside cars and tugs, and ground handlers aka people. Always maintain a high vigilance, as taxiing accidents continue to occur. If you are unsure of taxi instructions from ATC at any time, ask for confirmation, always know the correct taxiing terminology2, and never assume it is always the same.

The other reason taxiing accidents occur are because we have long wings to remember! In any aircraft you fly, whether small or especially in larger aircraft, my advice is to know your wingspan in your sleep and be able to quote it without hesitation. Markings on the tarmac are specific for varying wing spans so do your research on meanings of airport markings on your charts.

runway, airport
Always maintain a high vigilance, as taxiing accidents continue to occur.

What is the best use of brakes during taxi?

When you are first in an aircraft and learning how to taxi, it is important to not develop a bad habit as although habits can be broken, they do take time to change. A good habit to develop is only using brakes … to slow down or stop. A common fault is that pilots hold pressure on the brakes unnecessarily whilst also holding power on to maintain speed. You may have heard of ‘riding the brakes,’ this is what it is. This is a no-no because you are creating a push-pull environment unnecessarily and will wear brake pads faster than they need to and they are expensive!

Another good habit is to perform a brake check immediately, as soon as the airplane begins moving.

Another behavior to watch for is using the brakes to assist turning, but that is not efficient since it is a waste of energy, brake pads, fuel, attention, and energy. Some aircraft steering systems such as the Aerocommander have nose wheel steering on the rudder pedals where partial pressure is steering, and further pressure opens the brake valve. The technique to taxi ‘well’ on such aircraft takes a lot of practice, more than you think, especially on landing.

What is the best speed to taxi a plane3?

Most pilots are taught the correct speed is a ‘slow walking pace.’ I don’t know about you, but I can walk pretty slow so in reality it is slow enough to be ready to stop immediately if required but not too fast that the tyres heat up too much. In higher performance aircraft, the taxi speed limits are often stated in the flight manual and/or the company procedures dictate limits. Too much heat in the tyres increases the risk of tyre failure.

It also depends on where you are taxiing whether on long straight taxiways away from other aircraft which can be many miles long. On long taxiways, you will cause a traffic jam if you go too slow.

Conversely, if you are in a tight parking area with many aircraft moving around, slow and steady is best. Some manufacturers prefer to allow the aircraft to roll up to 30 knots and then break to 10 knots on open taxiway, rather than ride the brakes. A rule of thumb is to select a speed commensurate with environment. See in next section ‘high speed taxi’ which is an advanced taxi manoeuvre.

Where is the best place to focus on when taxiing?

Accordingly, it is important to know how and where to look outside while taxiing, because that is where you will develop the perspective and awareness. Most pilots narrow their focus too much and do not look far enough ahead, basically because they are not relaxed.

Try to ensure you breathe out and reduce tension and stay in theme of cool, calm, and collected.

The basic principle is to practise having a relaxed focus and observe everything objectively, without placing an undue emphasis on anything specifically.

By broadening visual focus, the pilot gains a broader perspective of things, which ultimately eliminates the possibility of missing potential problems, such as hitting obstacles or taxiing onto an active runway. If you do inadvertently find yourself making an error, the best practise is to admit it early, and cop the embarrassment rather than cause a critical incident.

runway, taxiing
It is important when it comes to taxiing an aircraft and taxi maneuvers, that your focus does not become complacent.

What is High Speed plane Taxi, and should you do it?

You know when you are becoming confident at taxiing when you only use the power and braking you need, everything feels smooth, and your awareness is high. Once you have achieved this feeling, it is time to move on to high-speed taxiing down the runway.

The goal is to smoothly apply full power while keeping the aircraft straight on the centreline before reducing power to idle and exiting safely at the other end.

In this exercise, the pilot should be focusing further ahead than before because the picture is moving faster, while still keeping a relaxed broad focus that observes everything in the field of vision calmly.

Then you have the capacity to identify in a timely manner potential hazards in your peripheral vision, allowing early actions to be taken to avoid them.

When taxiing, consider the position of your flight controls relative to the wind – this is particularly important in strong winds, and for the flight controls of taildragger aircraft it is especially so. Remember the saying ‘climb and turn into the wind, dive and turn away from the wind’ to position the flight controls regarding the wind.

It is also good practice to get into the habit to cycle the flight controls after clearing the runway and approach path for traffic before any runway crossing or entering.  

What happens if the brakes fail during taxi?

An excellent exercise to develop a ‘feel’ for how much tarmac it will take the aircraft to stop if the brakes fail is by practicing without braking and exiting onto a taxiway from the runway a couple of times so an appreciation is gained of how far the aircraft needs to decelerate without brakes. This knowledge not only can come in handy if the brakes fail, but it also gives you confidence if you must land without brakes for some other reason.

Here is a real-life story from a pilot I know who was coming in to land at a humid airport in a B747. ATC asked the crew to ‘expedite’ as they had following traffic. The Captain accommodated the request and after touchdown allowed the aircraft to roll through to the end at a fairly healthy speed predicting that they had enough taxi room to brake and exit at the last taxiway.

What the Captain of that aircraft did not consider was the rubber in the last 1000 feet of the runway which is the touchdown zone for aircraft landing in the other direction.

With the humid and wet conditions, the Captain applied strong braking however the aircraft skidded on the rubber deposits.

In the end, the Captain deployed the reverses and stopped in time, however, now shares this story for others’ reference … and never accommodated ATC to this amount ever again!

runway at night, airport lights, plane taxiing on the runway
By broadening visual focus, the pilot gains a broader perspective of things, which ultimately eliminates the possibility of missing potential problems, such as hitting obstacles or taxiing onto an active runway.

What accidents can occur when taxiing?

Taxiway collisions4 and runway incursions continue to happen, and we share the following links not to scare pilots but to remind us all that just because manoeuvring around the airport is slow, it is still a highly stimulating environment. Always do a self-assessment of any instruction given by ATC or position report from other aircraft.

“While most occurrences on airport aprons and taxiways do not have consequences in terms of loss of life, they are often associated with aircraft damage, delays to passengers and avoidable financial costs.”

Runway collision with fire truck in Lima, Peru. Click here5.

flight controls

runway crossing


The thrill of flight has captivated pilots for over one hundred years but with the great complexity comes great responsibility to ourselves and our passengers. In a perfect world, accidents and incidents would not happen, but they still do. It is important when it comes to taxiing an aircraft and taxi maneuvers, that your focus does not become complacent.

By understanding the environment and applying good habits early, you can have a successful taxiing career. Remember that there are many elements that can cause errors and the best way to reduce the chance is to stay alert so you do not get hurt, but if you find yourself making an error, admit it early and let aircraft around you know so the error does not continue into a worse situation.

Reference List:

  1. ‘Before the flight: Taxiing – the high art of ground maneuvers’, Monika Weiner, Aero Report. Published: Feb 2022. Accessed online at on Jan 7, 2023.
  2. ‘Section 7. Taxi and Ground Movement Procedures’, FAA. Accessed online at on Jan 7, 2023.
  3. ‘Taxi Technique’, James Albright, Code 7700. Accessed online at on Jan 7, 2023.
  4. ‘Taxiway Collisions’, Skybrary. Accessed online at on Jan 7, 2023.
  5. ‘Truck struck by plane on Lima runway was in drill’, Published: Nov 20, 2022. Accessed online at,entered%20the%20runway%20without%20authorisation on Jan 7, 2023.
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