Airplane Taxi

I was at the airport yesterday and noticed that after the plane landed the pilots and the rest of the crew left. Is there someone who is not a pilot but can taxi the jet? Is this a job someone has, moving planes around all night?

In the movie Cloak & Dagger, Dabney Coleman’s character says something like: “I am am not a pilot but I have a license to taxi planes”. As far as I know, this is non-sense. Only a pilot can truly taxi a jet like a 747. However, there may be some procedures in place where a jet can be towed by airplane tractor when there is not a pilot on board. Small planes can be moved this way by mechanics and other maintenance workers that may not be pilots. Most smaller planes can simply be pulled by a special bar once the brakes are released.

In the movie Airport, Petrone (George Kennedy) assumed authority because he had a license to taxi. I don’t think such licenses are issued by the FAA as their authority ends if the vehicle is not airborn. While not a legal document, the license is probably issued by the aircraft manufacturer (or aircraft owner) meaning that, in the manufacture’s view, the holder is qualified to taxi the aircraft.

Never heard of a taxi license myself, but I know in the Navy, mechanics and such are trained as brake riders - they sit in the pilot’s seat when the plane is being towed, ready to apply brakes in case of emergency… I’d not be surprised if there was a civilian equivalent.

This part is not true at true for the large, tower controlled aiports that the OP seems to be referring to. At larger airports, ground controllers (who are FAA employees or contractors) control all aircraft moves that involve a taxiway or a runway. The only time that you would not need clearance from a ground controller is if the move if very inconsequential or if the move was restricted to a private area at the airport. It would take substantial skill to communicate with a ground controller, follow directions, as well as successfully taxi a large jet. That is why I believe that all true aircraft moves other than towing a small distance, are done by pilots. I am quite sure that only a pilot can take a plane under its own power onto a taiway or a runway.

While I was stationed at Fairchild AFB, I was assigned to the “Driver Support Section”. One of our duties was to tow aircraft. Pilots have lots of other things to do besides taxi aircraft between missions (like getting sleep – B-52 sorties can be very long), so ground crews move the planes around when, f’rinstance, one needs to go to the maintenance hangar. During towing operations, there were spotters at both wingtips and the tail, and a brakeman riding in the cockpit. If the towbar were to break, or if any of several other “stop-the-plane-right-fricken-now” events were to occur, the brakeman’s job would be to stop the plane as quickly as possible. The brakeman was (IIRC) usually the crewchief or assistant crew chief for that plane (a crew chief is sort of like the Chief coordinator for maintenance on a particular aircraft). Some crew chiefs were so highly trained that they could do almost anything except fly the plane. Some could probably take off in it, but landing requires lots of practice they didn’t have.

In Cloak & Dagger, Dabney Coleman’s character is a Technical Sergeant or Master Sergeant (I haven’t seen the movie lately). I would suspect that if he had been a crew chief, he would have been knowledgeable enough to taxi the plane. Telling the Air Port officials he had a license to taxi aircraft might have just been a dodge to avoid explaining that he knew how, but wasn’t certified. Of course, it might just have been that the script writers were ignorant of the facts and just put that in because that’s how they figured it worked. I would guess that a “taxi license”, if one exists, would be issued at either the state level or, if Federal, would probably be issued by the Department of Transportation, but I’m no expert.


You don’t need any kind of license to Taxi the aircraft, although the company no doubt has rules about who can taxi, and that will be written in their procedures manual which must be approved by the FAA.

In smaller, privately owned aircraft it’s fairly common for mechanics to just get in an aircraft, start it up, and taxi it out to the runup area.

Bet on the aircraft being moved by tow tractor. That allows it to be moved by anyone who can drive, using less fuel (the tractor is optimized for moving big things slowly on the ground, not like the airplane), there is less chance of damage to the airplane engines from FOD (foreign object damage) if they’re not running, and the tractor can back up if it needs to.

I was a “ramp rat” at O’hare airport for a while back in the early eighties. On one occasion a mechanic taxied a 707 from the hangar to the gate.

Cloak and Dagger, great movie!