Signal to an aircraft

It is not only about piloting the aircraft but also driving to the boarding gates, that means taxiing the plane with a safe coordination to engine shutdown. How it is performed? A tool used as a standard in many air operations, the commonly known Marshalling Signals. These are intended for use by the signalman using the hands and in required cases the torchlights allowing visual communication between the crew and the personnel in ground.

Taking into account that moving an aircraft could be a dangerous task, this signalman or even two are required, because of the size and big parts of the plane and moving parts like rotors or propellers. That’s why we can see in airports these personnel when looking out the window.

Signalman assisting a helicopter. Source: nlr.nl

The annex II of ICAO Rules of the Air provides recommendations about several signals for warning operations and one of them related to marshalling signal.

A signalman shall be responsible for providing standard marshalling signals to aircraft in a clear and precise manner using the signals shown in Appendix 1.

ICAO Rules of the Air

How are these signals done? Let’s take a look at some examples with images from the mentioned annex II:

Wingwalker/guide

“This signal provides an indication by a person positioned at the aircraft wing tip, to the pilot/ marshaller/ push-back operator, that the aircraft movement on/off a parking position would be unobstructed”.

Identify gate

“Raise fully extended arms straight above head with wands pointing up”.

Proceed to next signalman or as directed by tower/ground control.

“Point both arms upward; move and extend arms outward to sides of body and point with wands to direction of next signalman or taxi area”.

Straight ahead.

“Bend extended arms at elbows and move wands up and down from chest height to head”.

Turn left (from pilot’s point of view).

“With right arm and wand extended at a 90-degree angle
to body, make “come ahead” signal with left hand. The
rate of signal motion indicates to pilot the rate of aircraft
turn”.

Turn right (from pilot’s point of view).

“With left arm and wand extended at a 90-degree angle
to body, make “come ahead” signal with right hand. The
rate of signal motion indicates to pilot the rate of aircraft
turn”.

Normal stop.

“Fully extend arms and wands at a 90-degree angle to
sides and slowly move to above head until wands cross”.

Emergency Stop.

“Abruptly extend arms and wands to top of head, crossing
wands”.

Set Brakes.

“Raise hand just above shoulder height with open palm.
Ensuring eye contact with flight crew, close hand into a
fist. Do not move until receipt of “thumbs up”
acknowledgement from flight crew”.

Release brakes.

“Raise hand just above shoulder height with hand closed
in a fist. Ensuring eye contact with flight crew, open
palm. Do not move until receipt of “thumbs up”
acknowledgement from flight crew”.

Chocks inserted.

“With arms and wands fully extended above head, move
wands inward in a “jabbing” motion until wands touch.
Ensure acknowledgement is received from flight crew”.

Chocks removed.

“With arms and wands fully extended above head, move
wands outward in a “jabbing” motion. Do not remove
chocks until authorized by flight crew”.

Start engine(s).

“Raise right arm to head level with wand pointing up and start a circular motion with hand; at the same time, with left arm raised above head level, point to engine to be started”.

Cut engines.

“Extend arm with wand forward of body at shoulder level; move hand and wand to top of left shoulder and draw wand to top of right shoulder in a slicing motion across throat”

Slow down.

“Move extended arms downwards in a “patting” gesture,
moving wands up and down from waist to knees”.

Affirmative/All clear.

“Raise right arm to head level with wand pointing up or
display hand with “thumbs up”; left arm remains at side
by knee”.

No person shall guide an aircraft unless trained, qualified and approved by the appropriate authority to carry out the functions of a signalman.

ICAO Rules of the Air

There are relevant signals and within the helicopter environment there are other kind of signals. All of these marshalling signals are in the ICAO Rules of the Air, with the explanation. The manual recommends use hands illumination to facilitate observation by the pilot.

In the video you can see the straight ahead signal, indicating the pilot to continue a straight path.

In military operation is highly used, even on the runway of aircraft carrier as seen in the image below.

An aircraft director instructs the pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet to hold his position while awaiting launch off the flight deck aboard the conventionally-powered aircraft carrier. Source: wikipedia commons: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Joshua Wayne LeGrand

Having seen the performance of these personnel, we would wonder if they are needed, and conclude that the best performance of a task is in a good team organization and teamwork. Do you know another sign?