As far as I can see, the pushback operation of a passenger aircraft is carried out by a similar application at many airports. It's a towbarless tractor and driver who pushes the aircraft together with a headset man connected to the aircraft walking next to the tractor.

It's strange for me to walk for minutes instead of getting on the tractor. The task of the headset man getting on a tractor will make both time efficient and less tiring. And it’ll be more faster than conventional push-out as well. Isn’t it?

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(Source: wikimedia.org)


3 Answers 3


The "headset man" is a wing walker, and he is there for a reason - he is not just someone who needs a ride to where the aircraft is being pushed to. Essentially, he is an extra pair of eyes for the tow driver. He needs be able to see everything going on around the aircraft to avoid collisions with other aircraft or stationary objects. This task cannot be performed from within the tow truck since the view from there is relatively limited.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually i didn’t mean headset man to take a seat next to driver. I think the headset man be able to see everything around aircraft while standing on the side platform of the tractor(outside of the tractor, standing and facing towards the aircraft) Would not it be safer to stand on tractor’s side platform than walking on the ground? In my opinion it’s more dangerous to walk alongside the tractor. $\endgroup$ Commented May 12, 2019 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @GolfCharlie no that would be a lot more dangerous. A fall from that height (which will happen occasionally) can be lethal if the head hits the floor. Regardless, the pushback would be at the same speed even without the wing walker. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Commented May 12, 2019 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ If you're pushing a jetliner back at a pace faster than walking speed, you need to ask what's the hurry. $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2019 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @RobCrawford The pushback operation at walking speed can last over 5 minutes. When hundreds of pushbacks are done a day, I think the time spent on pushback operation can find hours. I just wanted to know how to shorten this process without compromising safety of the ground crew/aircraft and how to get past long distance walking of headset man. $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2019 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ @GolfCharlie It's important for the operation to be slow for a number of reasons. First of all, it makes it much easier to stop quickly if a wingtip gets too close to something or if something unexpectedly moves into the aircraft's pushback path. The extra maybe 20-30 seconds aren't worth the potential of doing millions upon millions of dollars of damage to the aircraft (or people!) Second, the way tricycle gear aircraft are designed, if they're moving backwards quickly and stop suddenly, they could potentially tip backwards onto their tail due to their momentum. That's no good. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 23:06

Costs, effectivity, and safety are the main concerns.

If that person now has to drive a tractor around the tarmac, the airport would have to pay for tens and hundreds of tractors and their maintenance costs (such as fuel etc).

The person driving the tractor also has to focus on the road, and you can't move around as you wish with a tractor on an airport to observe.

If you are elevated on a tractor, you may not be able to observe what's going on under the aircraft. Is there a fire? A spark or two? We may never now.

Safety concerns are a thing too; how close can the tractor come to the aircraft? What happens if they colllide? That's extra costs for the airport. The person in the tractor has to be connected to the aircraft via a wire so range is a question here.

Airport vehicles have to have a beacon light during movement. This is to alert vehicles around (including planes) that they are moving and could be a risk. If a plane pushes back during night, a light of another vehicle could be mistaken for the truck which elevates the risks of an accident happening.

Those are the debatable reasons I could think of.

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    $\begingroup$ I think OP is asking why the person doesn't ride along on the tow truck, not why he doesn't have a separate tractor. Your points are still valid, though. $\endgroup$ Commented May 13, 2019 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ @J.Hougaard Ah gotcha, I read OPs comment on the first answer a little too fast hehe $\endgroup$
    – RAZERZ
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 13:57
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    $\begingroup$ The problem with riding on the tractor is that the observer ends up with nearly the same visual perspective as the tractor operator. While it may be possible that a tractor-riding "wing walker" could have fewer visual obstructions than the person behind the wheel, the "walker" would still only be a few feet away from the driver, and see nearly the same view as the driver. When you're pushing aircraft with wingspans between 100 to 200 feet, you really need someone "out there" to make sure the wingtips are not going to clip something. $\endgroup$
    – chaserb
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 1:39

Actually the "headset man" is the line maintenance a.k.a. mechanic.

The headset is plugged into the airplane and is in direct communication with the cockpit. It's more precisely known as a "telephone". Callsigns are usually "cockpit" for cockpit and "ground" for the mechanic. "Ground" informs the "cockpit" when to release the parking brakes (when it is connected to the paymover and chocks are off). Cockpit tells "ground" when done and in which direction to pushback the plane.

He walks beside the airplane so he has a better and less obstructed view of the airplane surroundings, he clears the crew for the engine start up checking that the engines are clear and monitors it. He also supervises the tow bar disconnection and removes the nose gear pin. He checks everything is clear (trucks, people, etc.) and clears the plane to taxi after showing the crew the pin so that they can visually confirm it has been removed.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think they are maintenance personnel or mechanics. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 8:27

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