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What is a Taxiway?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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A taxiway is a hard surface at an airport which is designed for the use of planes which are taxiing. Taxiways are used to connect hangars, runways, terminals, and other airport areas. Access to the taxiway is generally limited to aircraft and support vehicles for safety reasons.

While taxiing, aircraft move at a slow rate of speed under their own power. Some aircraft may also be towed, as is seen when aircraft are disabled or there are concerns about whether or not a plane can navigate safely. The materials used to build a taxiway are strong enough to support the weight of the aircraft, but they cannot withstand jet blast and high rates of speed, making them unsuitable for use as runways.

Runways, by contrast, can accommodate planes which are rapidly accelerating or decelerating during takeoff and landing. They also have ample clearance to reduce the risk of injuries which might be caused by the blast of running jet engines. As a general rule, aircraft are supposed to stick to taxiways while taxiing, although they may sometimes need to cross runways, and planes cannot take off or land on a taxiway, because it is not safe.

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Various markings and lighting are used on taxiways to alert pilots to the center line, the edges of a taxiway, and the direction in which the taxiway heads. At night, lighting which clearly outlines the taxiway and differentiates it from the runway is used, while in the daylight, bold painted markings are clearly visible to pilots. Signs near the taxiway also provide additional directional information to keep pilots on track.

Planes which are actively taking off and landing have right of way, because they are going too fast to maneuver or slow down. Traffic at an airport is managed by air traffic controllers who direct aircraft, with the goal of keeping as many runways clear as possible at any given time so that planes can take off and land without delay. Pilots are also responsible for using common sense while on the taxiway and runway, and for alerting airport personnel to safety issues and other problems which may interfere with the smooth operation of the airport.

While on the taxiway, right of way is generally given to planes which have been cleared for takeoff so that they can access the runway quickly, thus freeing up space for more planes to take off. Pilots also use common sense, with pilots of smaller aircraft yielding to those of larger aircraft because larger planes are harder to maneuver while taxiing.

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