In past years it was common to get a taxi clearance that would include all required runway crossings. This was true even if there were several runway crossings over a long distance.

Now it seems that ATC has limits on how far ahead they can issue runway crossings. What are the ATC limits on taxi clearances that include runway crossings?


I suspect that you're thinking of this procedural change that took effect from June 30th, 2010. Before the change, a taxi clearance could indeed allow you to cross multiple runways, but now you can only be cleared to cross one runway at a time:

This change establishes the requirement that an explicit runway crossing clearance be issued for each runway (active/inactive or closed) crossing and requires an aircraft/vehicle to have crossed the previous runway before another runway crossing clearance may be issued. At airports where the taxi route between runway centerlines is less than 1,000 feet apart, multiple runway crossings may be issued after receiving approval by the Terminal Services Director of Operations.

It was a big change at the time (according to what I've read) and it was widely publicized by the FAA and other organizations. The relevant ATC instructions are in the ATC orders 3-7-2:

Aircraft/vehicles must receive a clearance for each runway their route crosses. An aircraft/vehicle must have crossed a previous runway before another runway crossing clearance may be issued.

The orders have several examples and the corresponding phraseology.

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    $\begingroup$ This... It did change, as the OP suspected. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Jul 27 '16 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ What does the OP acronym mean? $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Jul 27 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ And yes, this is the change I was looking for. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – ryan1618 Jul 27 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @RyanBurnette Original Poster. And you're welcome! $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jul 27 '16 at 19:02

There's no single answer to this: It very much depends on the airport and traffic, time of day, runways in use.

At Gatwick, for example, one runway is basically a permanent taxiway unless the other is closed for any reason - so you'll often be cleared to cross it along with the rest of your taxi instructions. Similarly at San Francisco, only two of the four runways are active at any given moment, so if you have to cross the other two, it wouldn't be unusual to be cleared for them as part of your taxi route.

Then at many smaller airports, they're quiet enough that you can be cleared directly to the gate, including runway crossings.

At the other end of the scale, at JFK at 3pm on a Friday afternoon, you're unlikely to be cleared to cross a runway until you're holding short next to it, and likely only behind an arriving aircraft or 2 8. Or at Schiphol, they seem medically averse to allowing aircraft to cross runways at all, so you'll usually be given a long winded route around a bunch of taxiways rather than crossing the runway.

Most other airports fall somewhere between these, where you'll often be cleared to cross one runway but hold short of another, for example, rather than given a full clearance to the gate. But on another day with an arriving aircraft closer than usual, you'll still be told to hold short.

So unfortunately there's really no better answer than "It depends" - but most ATC's will play it safe (since that's literally their job) and only issue a runway crossing clearance when you're already holding short of the runway. That really doesn't take any more time/effort for them or for you, so it's the safest option and therefore the most common at anything other than quiet airports, or where the operating procedure means you can be cleared to cross a not-in-use runway

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    $\begingroup$ SFO typically lands on both 28's while departing both 1's. Otherwise, nice answer. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Jul 27 '16 at 19:05

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