Airplane Taxiing Methods

Airports · 5 min read · Aug 23, 2022
airplane taxiing


As an airplane does not fly when it’s on the surface of a ground, therefore the process by which it moves has been named as taxiing. In simple words, it’s a controlled movement of an aircraft on ground using its wheels and engine power.

Movement on a Runway

Before the airplane can take off, it runs a few miles on a runway with controlled movement just like any other vehicle on a ground. It occurs when the airplane is neither departing from land nor landing over it.

Movement through Interconnected Channels

The concept of taxiing aircraft is not just confined to the movements leading towards departures and an arrival on land; as it also involves the movement of an aircraft through the vast network of interconnected lanes present within an airport for commercial purposes.

An Air New Zealand airplane taxiing to the runway.

Airplane Taxiing and Commercial Airlines

A slow taxi speed by an aircraft is observed usually by commercial airlines where these planes are navigating through various channels. Around 45000 commercial flights are handled by the FAA at given moment around the world.

The airplanes are intended to transport passengers to their destination at a certain period of time therefore these planes must land at an airport.

The runway space is quite a limited place on any airport therefore a systematic movement or taxiing is required to prevent any blockage which might occur otherwise.

An Integral Process for All Airplanes

The process of taxiing is essential for all airplanes irrespective of their size. Whether it’s a small aircraft or a larger one, they all require taxiing when they are on ground.

The Mechanism of Taxiing

Just like any other vehicle, the airplane also requires a precise steering and control for conducting safe taxi operations, as described by EASA. Taxiing can be broadly classified into two types; one involves the movement of plane through interconnected channels or terminals and the other occurs when it moves along the runway. Various ways are present for taxiing an airplane.

The Use of Propulsion System

The most common way of performing it involves the use of propulsion system of an airplane. In order to propel an airplane, most of them have either propellers or a jet engine. When the propulsion system is engaged, it enables the airplane to move on the runway.

The Use of Thrust Reversers

In order to back up an airplane while moving on a runway, some of these also have thrust reversers within them.

It allows the airplane to change the direction of its thrust and is mostly present in jet engine based airplanes where they help in the process of taxiing.

Steering of an Airplane

Changing the direction of any vehicle is an important factor while driving as it controls where it would proceed on the ground and for that purpose an adequate steering control by a driver is required.

A similar steering is also needed when it comes to an airplane and pilots must be capable enough to know how to steer it when it is being taxied.

The steering procedure is performed with the use of an airplane’s control systems. Moving the rudder would ultimately change the direction of a plane.

An airplane taxiing at an airport..

Steering an Airplane during Taxiing through Channels

When an airplane is being taxied, a tiller is used to steer it. It is actually a tool which is present on pilot’s side. The position of tiller varies as it is dependent upon the type of airplane and its usage. It is usually located on the side so that a pilot can use it with a single hand without facing any difficulty.

By appearance, there is absolutely no resemblance between a tiller and a steering wheel however; they both still work in a similar way. When a tiller is turned, the wheels present beneath an airplane’s nose are turned and as a result the direction of the entire plane changes accordingly. It enables a pilot to take sharp turns required on a taxiway.

The tillers are present in commercial airplanes and such tools are not present in smaller aircrafts. Therefore, in order to steer them, two options are available. The plane can either follow a straight path or it can use other available methods to change its direction and take a turn.

Among the other possible methods for steering small aircrafts differential braking is a famous technique. For this method to work, an airplane is moved to a specific direction by applying brakes to the wheels present on the required side of the plane. It results in an airplane pivoting or spinning around that specific wheel resulting in its changed direction.

Steering an Airplane before it Takes off or Lands on the Ground

During slower taxi speeds, tillers are used as their use requires controlling taxi speed however as an airplane moves down the runway, the speed changes drastically. When an airplane is moving through specified taxi ways on the ground, tillers are quite much easier to use in order to turn the aircraft towards the desired direction.

However, when the airplane begins moving at a fast speed like the one it takes during initial ground roll, a tiller is not enough for positive control to turn its direction. It would lead to a catastrophe if the nose wheel is snapped off due to immense pressure.

Throttling and differential braking along with the usage of tools like tiller is out of the context during an airplane landing or take-off. A rudder is therefore used to make such directional movements as only rudder pressure along with elevator control surfaces would be able to control speed of a fast moving plane.

When the rudder is moved to left, it turns the plane towards left side and similarly when it’s turned to right, the plane changes it direction accordingly. It is used to make such minor corrections during high taxi speeds.

Ground Taxi Lights

When an airplane starts to move, taxiway lighting is present to help pilots exercise accurate control of their plane. The main purpose of these lights is to make sure the pilots are able to follow an accurate taxiway route during low visibility, especially when taxiing or flying at night.

An airplane being tugged by a tug vehicle.

Difference between Taxiing and Towing

During taxiing, the aircraft uses its wheels to move on the ground and it must be kept in mind that taxiing is different from towing; where it is simply pulled by a tug.

When the term taxiing is used, people consider it as the movement of an airplane with the help of another vehicle that moves and physically pulls it.

The difference between these two terms is that during an airplane taxiing, the propulsion system of an airplane and its own power is used whereas in towing or a pushback, another vehicle is used to apply force for its movement.

These ground vehicles used for towing are termed as a tug. They are connected to an airplane for its pulling and also to change its direction.


Taxiing an airplane is an essential procedure as it allows the aircraft to move down a runway or through taxiways present in an airport. As many commercial aircraft are flying at the same time therefore a systematic approach of their movement in an airport is necessary to prevent the blockage of upcoming aircrafts.

Propulsion system, thrust reversers and a steering wheel is required for taxiing. Tiller is present in commercial airplanes for steering but differential brakes are used in smaller aircrafts. For taxiing at higher speeds, rudders are utilized. The concept of taxiing is different as compared to towing where the later requires the force of another ground vehicle to pull the aircraft towards any direction. Whereas in taxiing, the engine power of an airplane itself is used to drive it along any passage.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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