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Airside Safety Without Words – a greater role for visual aids at Airports?

Imagine you are the pilot of an aircraft landing at this Airport for the first time. You are now making your way (under instruction from ATC/Ground Movement Control) to the aircraft stand allocated to you for this visit.

Situation normal?

Since you are not familiar with the Airport layout, what useful aids would you reasonably expect to see?

The language of the air radio channels is plain but are the signs on the ground as clearly understood? Ground markings such as painted lines, arrows and stand numbers will usually be internationally understood but what about display boards, directions, and warnings of hazards such as width limitations, works in progress, prohibited areas, preferential routings and items of General Safety warning? Can you be equally sure about these? This is where good VISUAL AIDS - visible and obvious as to their meaning (without resorting to lengthy wording) - would help you at a minimum cost to the operating authority.

ICAO and the national FAA/CAA body have guidelines for Airport Management. When 'licencing' the airport, minimum standards will be insisted upon to operate within the Category limits required. Thankfully - minimum standards are a requirement. But not necessarily the most helpful to visiting, fee paying Aircraft owners.

Runways and Taxiways Edge marking.

Let us back-track to the time when you were making your approach. Dependent upon whether the landing is on a licensed or unlicensed, large or small strip will be how much ILS/PAPI/V ASI/MLS or similar equipment there was. But how necessary is full airfield lighting? This article has no intention of giving a contentious answer to that question! Just some thoughts.

For example, one school of thought says that after approach guidance, once over the threshold, in most conditions’ airfield lighting is superfluous. (You have to be over ten feet tall to even see flush fitting edge lighting!)

Perhaps an alternative, more useful aid to pilots once they are on the ground is a colourful vertical post clearly showing the edge of the runway or areas of restricted width? This type of marker, usually cylindrical in shape and fitted with a sheath either retro-reflective or daytime fluorescent and night time retro reflective, can be visible daytime and at night time up to 3000 metres. These posts are normally installed at 30 metre centers, at minimal cost and are maintenance free and need no electricity! What an argument where money is short but safety important!

The type of cylindrical marker illustrated is available in three heights and many colour combinations to suit clients' needs. Variations of colour may be useful to indicate fast turnoffs or specialist paths, e.g. from the Fire Section or where a helicopter hover-taxiway is designated. These markers are already widely used for taxiway edge marking in the United Kingdom, the USA and some European airports by both commercial and military clients with total success. They are activated at night by aircraft landing and wingtip lights and appear as a column of light about 3cm wide.

Taxiway and Apron Markings

Taxiways are touched upon above, as a natural extension from runways but often taxiway marking continues through large apron areas towards the aircraft stand or pier. The same cylindrical markers for runways/taxiways can usefully be used across aprons, set into the hard surface. The markers are frangible and if knocked by an aircraft or vehicle will be run down and will usually stand up again after the vehicle passes, with no damage to vehicle or wheels!

A taller and larger diameter post may be useful in situations where a culvert, open storm water drains or other hazard exists. This is based upon the same principle as the smaller edge markers but is, of course, used further away from the aircraft operations or at the extreme end of a runway/taxiway.

Airside works areas may similarly be marked with small, heavyweight barriers such as that illustrated. The low height of the barrier allows a wing, airscrew or pod to safely pass over the obstruction whilst still clearly indicating that a hazard exists. Again the product is highly visible in all weather conditions, day or night.

Apron and Bad Ground Markers

An alternative to the barriers and posts for works areas or bad ground marking are triangular plastic boxes which (in various colours) can be linked together to form a short or long, one piece or continuously joined barrier. One recent use for this is as a tethered barrier where immediate dispersal is vital when weather conditions deteriorate or an area has to be closed off and the operating authority wish to put a physical and very visible barrier across, say, a taxiway. These have successfully been used at Gatwick Airport for several years.


In a short article it is not possible to cover all safety products, many other effective visual aids are available. In the main they have been carefully thought through with Airport application in mind. Selection is a matter for the Operating Authority and there is plenty of choice now.

Guidance on the main requirements is available from Civil Aviation Departments. Manufacturer’s literature and recommendations from another Airport are probably the best guide to the products most suited for an application.

In times where energy costs are rising and return on investment is ever more important for airside projects, these Linlaner markers have no ongoing operating cost and a very long life and can supplement an electrical installation perfectly.

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