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Ask the pilot: How do pilots follow the lines on the ground?

How fast can a plane actually fly? Does it always take the most straightforward route? When do the aircraft get a rest? And what does it take to actually fly one? The people with the answers are the SAS pilots.

Hi. I’ve always wondered how pilots can follow the lines on the ground at the airport. Is there a camera in the nose of the plane?

On taxiways, there are yellow lines marking the center of the taxiway. It’s important to keep the nose wheel on this line at all times so that the main wheels stay on the taxiway and to keep the wingtips clear of any obstacles.

When we taxi, we know where the taxiway markings should be relative to cues we have in the cockpit. On the Airbus A330, for example, we align the border between two instruments with the yellow taxi line in front of the aircraft to keep the nose wheel centered on the line. Turns on a taxiway are a bit more challenging because the nose wheel is located behind the cockpit. If you want to make a 90° turn onto another taxiway, the cockpit has to go a few meters past the exit before the turn is initiated. 

Steering on the ground is achieved by turning the nose wheel, either by a tiller wheel in the cockpit or by using the rudder pedals. When taxiing, aircraft move slowly to reduce the risk of nose wheel damage. A slow speed also ­ensures a quick stop if necessary. Taxi speed is usually 10 to 20 knots (18–37km/h).

When the aircraft appro­aches the parking position, external guidance is usually provided by a visual docking system.

Some newer aircraft, like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777, have cameras mounted on or near the nose gear that can provide video to the cockpit. This makes it possible to see what’s going on underneath the cockpit, for example, if the pushback truck is connected, but it also helps us taxi more precisely.

Pernilla Nilsson
Senior First Officer

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