When the pilot (PIC) of a large jet is cleared for pushback and start, how does he signal the tug to start towing the aircraft, and where to go to?

The pilot has to monitor the ground frequency the whole time, so is there a second radio for talking to the tug crew? Or perhaps a wired link between the aircraft and the tug?

Does he just tell them to "take us to start point alpha" or whatever, or does he have to give more detailed instructions?

Are the tug crew listening in to the instructions from the tower?

If the aircraft has to stop unexpectedly (because of an instruction from the tower, or because the pilot has a safety concern), how is this coordinated safely?


1 Answer 1


Generally speaking1, when an aircraft is allowed/ready to leave (deliberately not using the word depart) the gate, things proceed in the following fashion:

  1. The pilots are in contact with Ground Control, and when the aircraft is ready to leave, Ground approves that they can leave the gate.
  2. The pilots asks groundcrew that the pushback can start.
  3. Pilots are in contact with a designated personal from groundcrew (see picture below).
  4. Pushback tractor/tug will start moving the aircraft away from gates, onto the place where aircraft will be ready to move on its own.
  5. During the pushback, aircraft's engines are started2.
  6. Pilots inform tug driver/designated person from groundcrew which direction the aircraft needs to be facing at the conclusion of pushback.
  7. When aircraft is ready to roll towards its assigned taxi instructions, marshaller signals the pilots that aircraft is in the requested position and pushback tug is about to be detached.
  8. After the tug is disconnected, the designated groundcrew personal communicating with pilots, informs the pilots and disconnects his headset. The marshaller signals (after moving away from the aircraft) the pilots that the aircraft is ready to proceed on its taxi route.
  9. Pilots confirm and acknowledge this last signal, and aircraft starts to taxi.

I have read that different airports have different procedures for the above mentioned activities. Although, I have always seen that a person from groundcrew attaches a headset near the nose gear of the aircraft (picture below) to communicate with the pilot.

Groundcrew Headset
Image Source
Please see the cable connecting the headset with the aircraft, near the nose gear. You cannot follow the entire cable though.

1: This is what a typical scenario looks like. Although, there can be great variations.
2: Engines are not started near the gate as there is groundcrew servicing the airplane and to avoid damages to close-by structures.

  • $\begingroup$ So the designated ground crew person walk next to the plane as it's being pushed back? $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2015 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @raptortech97 they also keep a lookout for wing tip clearance $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2015 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, there are many different variations on the above. Also, the ground crew typically informs the pilot when it is safe to start the engines (which may actually be near the gate). There are also hand signals when electronic communcations are not available/functioning. $\endgroup$ Apr 5, 2015 at 0:41
  • $\begingroup$ Does the ground crew also shout "contact" like when I start my Tiger Moth? :-) $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hulme
    Apr 5, 2015 at 7:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It does look weird, some guy/gal with a plane on the end of a cable. like they're taking a 200-tonne dog for exercise. I always want to shout 'Walkies' :) $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2015 at 2:56

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