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Apron Operations - Can Radiotelephone Reduce Mis-Communication?

Updated: Jun 17, 2022

In the world of aviation, the apron at an airfield is probably one of the most dangerous places. Due to the amount of activity that takes place here at any given time, especially at airports that facilitate scheduled traffic for commercial businesses, this is the case. Catering, Refuelers, Baggage handlers, VIPs, etc., in addition to the Aircraft on taxi to and from parking bays, all pass through this area as they make their way to either safely deliver or collect their fare-paying passengers.

Air traffic controllers in my opinion have a hard time. Even though they know how to speak to Aircraft transiting on this particular hardstand during their taxiing out and back as well as Tug drivers who tow aircraft safely in this vicinity while communicating with ATC on frequency as well as Firemen who speak to ATC on frequency when conducting either various visual inspections or, in the worst-case scenario, facilitating an emergency on the Apron side of the Airfield itself.

In order to proceed with this article, we must first ensure that everyone is familiar with the term 'Apron'. An Apron is a section of an airport that allows aircraft to:

  • Taxi onto for parking

  • Load and unload their passengers

  • Uplift fuel

  • Carry out scheduled or unscheduled maintenance requirements.

Whenever any vehicle not under the control of Air Traffic Control (e.g., moving on an Apron without communicating on the frequency with ATC), proceeds onto the Apron itself, they do so cautiously by giving way to all aircraft currently taxiing at the time, driving in a safe manner at a reasonable speed. Unfortunately, this relies on that individual making some hasty decisions, allowing Human Factors to step in, and reveal a number of uncontrolled events that can cause incidents or accidents that otherwise could have been avoided.

The weather can also complicate the situation, with the operator having reduced visibility while in motion. In any environment, unplanned delays in procedures and attempts to make up lost time could lead to hazardous situations. For example, if ATC had a frequency dedicated to unscheduled operations on an Apron, could the person in charge of this frequency have more control over these movements as well as coordinate with the Ground Controller who is already managing all Aircraft movements?

Taking this proposal further, the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system could broadcast an aircraft's identification, GPS position, projected trajectory, and navigation system status to ATC, allowing them to accurately track the plane on the ground or in flight. Couldn't all operators on an Apron be equipped with ADS-B, or something similar that would allow ATC to track their movements as well as communicate with these supplementary operators at the same time?

As mentioned, the inclusion of this proposed Apron Operations frequency, coupled with the related support equipment, could contribute to the creation of jobs during operational hours, especially for those airports managed 24/7.

As the pandemic is more than over, and the future growth of Aviation seems set to peak within a few years, shouldn't Airport Operators worldwide be looking at safety solutions, such as this proposal, to ensure that unplanned errors on an Apron are corrected with technology, together with the intervention of ATC whose primary goal is to ensure safety for all operators?

We are rapidly entering a new era of technology - if we haven't already - where hand signals and gestures are becoming obsolete while radio and wireless communication is catching up. It has never been easier to get a Canadian Aviation Radio License thanks to We offer in-person and virtual exams at mutually convenient times. Get licensed, stay protected, and get legal.

All the best!

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