Landing at Busy Airports: Have an Exit Strategy!

You just landed on runway 12R at San Antonio International (KSAT) and haven’t so much as peeked at the taxiway diagram. As you roll out, tower hurriedly says, “turn next taxiway and taxi to parking, monitor ground point niner”. As you approach taxiway Sierra, you realize that the controller has failed to indicate whether this will be a left or right turn off the runway. Which way do you go, and furthermore, how do you find your way to parking? This highlights the need to have a game plan for exiting the runway.

Although we often talk about staying ahead of the airplane at all times, pilots tend to forget that they cannot take a break when the wheels touch the ground. This is particularly important at large airports with complicated taxiways. It is critical that the pilot have a plan for exiting the runway and finding their way to the FBO, regardless of the presence of an operating control tower.

So how do we stay ahead of the airplane and build that runway exit strategy? Start thinking about your landing runway and taxi fifteen to thirty minutes out. After listening to the ATIS, you should have a good idea as to what runway(s) you are likely to land on. Now pull out that taxiway diagram (VFR pilots, you can find this in your Airport / Facility Directory).

San Antonio Taxiway Diagram

San Antonio Taxiway Diagram

Going back to our San Antonio example, suppose you are approaching KSAT from the west, and ATIS reports that the visual for 12L and 12R are in use. We can expect 12R since ATC rarely crosses traffic between parallel runways.

Having done our homework ahead of time, we know that our FBO is east of 12R near taxiway Juliet. A right turn on Sierra, or maybe Bravo, followed by a right on Golf or Hotel to parking is more than likely going to be our taxi clearance.

Keep your head in the game and face those big airports without fear.

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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

7 Replies to Landing at Busy Airports: Have an Exit Strategy!

  1. I’ve been told by a handful ground controllers that most pilots are not prepared and require the need for a progressive, or worse a spoon fed one. Pilots should absolutely be more prepared for when they land!

  2. I fly into Amsterdam Schiphol from time to time in a Cirrus SR22. Normally they put you on the little easterly runway that is right by the private terminal but they could send you any of the other runways. Without proper pre-flight planning along the lines you suggest, this could be very scary. Especially if you’re in line with a bunch of jets behind you. Planning which exit to take is important. I also find it very helpful to think about where on the runway I want to land. There’s no point putting the plane down on the numbers if I have to taxi half a mile to get to the nearest exit. I’m used to a 2100′ runway at Denham so by default I do short-field landings so I have to reprogram my brain a bit and think about it all quite carefully!

    • That’s about the way they treat Memphis. 9/27 is sort of separate from the rest of the airport and they tend to keep GA traffic on that side. It keeps the little planes away from the airline operations and the taxi to the FBO’s is pretty simple. Great idea to consider your intended touchdown point on those long runways. I used to intentionally keep the power in and float a twin-Cessna half way down the runway at Nashville to cut my taxi time. It was satisfying when I could cut the throttle, touchdown, turn right at the high-speed and coast all the way to parking.

      By the way, just found out about your blog. I like where you’re going with it. Great name too.

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