How do pilots navigate around the apron at an airport?
Just like the approach and departure charts for every airport, there are also special maps showing all the taxiways, runways, terminals and hangars for the cockpit crew to follow on the ground. There could be up to ten or more of these maps for a major airport. Before setting off, the crew goes through the route to the runway and compares it with the air traffic controller’s instructions. This also happens prior to landing: the pilots discuss how they will leave the runway and get to the terminal.
Who has right of way on the apron?
At a large airport, the apron or tower controller determines which aircraft have to wait at runway junctions. Officially, vehicles coming from the right take precedence, but the controller can suspend this. As a rule, planes always go before all other vehicles, such as trucks or buses.
What is the purpose of the follow-me cars that you see on television?
At the gate, an electronic system shows the pilots exactly where they have to stop so that the gangways can be pushed up against the aircraft. If the plane is parked at a remote position, the follow-me vehicle will drive ahead and a marshaller will indicate where to park. The follow-me cars are always on stand-by to assist the pilots.
Do you always have to use maps, even if you are familiar with the airport?
Safety first! Even if you know your home airport like the back of your hand, a pilot always has to obey the signs and follow a map. Taxiing on instinct can be dangerous.