How to Copy a Taxi Clearance from ATC

Chicago's Ohare Airport (ORD)

“Burlap 425 Golf Oscar, SimpleLayout Ground, Runway 7, taxi via Alpha.”

“Burlap 425 Golf Oscar, Runway 7 via Alpha.”

There, that wasn’t so hard was it? Copying taxi clearances from ATC is easy!

Yeah, riiiight.

“Flabbergast 9128 X-ray, Bigtime Ground, Runway 27 Left, taxi via left Sierra, Delta, Delta 1, right Charlie, Charlie 1 and hold short of 27 Right on Charlie 1.”

“Flabbergast 9128 X-ray, Runway 27 Left, uh . . . uh . . . um. . .”

Complexity Equals Perplexity?

Okay, maybe copying taxi clearances isn’t easy all of the time. If your home airport has a couple of runways and a couple of taxiways, then your taxi clearances will always be easy.

Venture into a complex airport–with many taxiways and runways—and the story changes. A complex airport usually equals complex taxi clearances. Throw ten other taxiing airplanes into the mix, add a busy ground controller who talks fast, and you are in trouble before you even key your microphone.

The Steps

Thankfully, there is a method to getting into synch with a ground controller at even the biggest, baddest airports. Here’s the trick:

Notes, Warnings and Cautions

Don’t do any of these steps with the aircraft in motion. Stop, look and listen applies to not only crossing the street, but also to crossing the airport. Set your aircraft’s brakes and then do the steps.


1. Get the Taxi Diagram: pull out the taxi chart for Big Bad Airport well before you call Ground Control.

2. Listen to the Airport Terminal Information Service (ATIS): find out which runways are active.

3. Mark Your Parking Spot: use a pencil to mark your parking spot on the taxi chart. Yes, that’s right. I said scribble on your official, expensive-as-hell, government-approved taxi diagram.

4. Mark Closed Taxiways: use your pencil to cross out any closed or partly-closed taxiways per ATIS and the airport’s Notices to Airmen (NOTAM).

5. Listen to Ground Control: for taxi clearances given to other aircraft, especially those aircraft that are parked near yours. Look at the taxi diagram and compare what you hear to what you see on the diagram.

(Here’s we are, so far. By marking your parking spot, eliminating closed taxiways on the chart, and listening to Ground, you begin to build the much talked about “Big Picture.” The Big Picture will make copying your own clearance much, much easier.)

6. Get Ready to Copy: by placing a blank piece of paper next to the taxi diagram. Position the blank paper so you can still see the taxi diagram as you write.


7. Call Ground and Write as you Listen: don’t try to hold the route in your head. This is the key–Write it down.

8. Write Only Letters and Numbers: of the taxiway names as you get them. Don’t write out the name. For example: Taxiway Alpha = A. Taxiway Delta One = D1. For left turns, write “l,” for right turns, write “r.” For hold short, write a “/”.

Read Back

9. Read Back Your Clearance: and listen for any corrections.


Try Try Again

Here’s that clearance I presented earlier: “Flabbergast 9128 X-ray, Bigtime Ground, Runway 27 Left, taxi via left Sierra, Delta, Delta 1, make the half-right onto Charlie and hold short of 27 Right on Charlie 1.”

You would write that down as “27L lS D D1 rC C1 /27R”

Badda bing, badda boom. You are on your way to the runway.

Next Time . . .

Next time, we can talk about a progressive taxi. A progressive taxi is the easy way out to the runway or in to the parking area. There are times when it comes in handy, but it is not the perfect solution for all situations. Better to copy your taxi clearance using the steps I’ve just outlined. Give those steps a try and let me know how they work for you.

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