Ground Operations: Aircraft Marshalling & VDGS System

You’ve probably noticed on your last flight the ground personnel walking and holding their two, red safety batons directing the movement of the plane as it pulls into the gate. This is the job of the Aircraft Marshaller. When an aircraft lands and approaches the gate, a ground handling staff gives signs to the pilot with lighted batons in both hands and guides the aircraft to the location where it should stop. Marshalling is very important for moving a large aircraft safely and accurately. On behalf of the pilots in the cockpit with relatively narrow visibility, the marshaller watches for obstacles on the ground, and makes sure the aircraft does not strike other aircraft. The marshaller must gesture with confidence so that the pilots understand the signs accurately. Marshalling is also used for preparing the aircraft for departure as well.

Marshallers can also “wing-walk” with the aircraft which is a practise where they stand at each wing and walk back with the plane while it’s being pushed back from the terminal.

The following hand signals are the most frequently used on the ramp:

⬆️ Commonly used signals in marshalling ⬆️

The standard instruments of a marshaller are a reflective safety vest, acoustic headphones, and marshalling batons–handheld illuminated beacons. At airports, the marshaller signals the pilot to keep turning, slow down and stop engines. When the aircraft parks at the gate, they will signal to the flight deck that the wheel chocks have been inserted and ground power has been connected. At this point, the lavatory waste tank is serviced & fuel and baggage are loaded.

⬆️ Marshaller taxiing in an aircraft ⬆️

Visual Docking Guidance System (VDGS)

At busier and better-equipped airports, a system called, “Visual Docking Guidance System” (VDGS) are typically used to replace the marshaler’s job. It is mounted on the building’s wall of the airport. Below is an example of what the Captain and FO would see while taxing into the gate.

⬆️ How the VDGS system works ⬆️

As you can see, the ground crew and more specifically the marshallers themselves, play an important role on the ramp to park aircraft safely. Their hand signals to pilots are vital when verbal communication is not possible. So the next time you fly, remember that while the aircraft is parked on the ground, many staff work hard night and day to ensure the safety of the passengers and the aircraft.


Cover Photo Credit: