I received taxi instructions from ground at a class D airport in the USA as follows (I was at ramp): Taxi to runway 04, Right on Bravo, left on 10, right on Alpha (no explicit clearance or hold short instructions for 10 were given). 10 was an inactive runway that intersected 04 with the Alpha taxiway turning off prior to the intersection with 04. I held short when I got to the 10 threshold and asked for clearance to taxi on the runway. The controller followed with Taxi left on 10, right on Alpha, but again no explicit clearance to enter the inactive runway at which point I taxied as instructed. My question is did I need to ask for clearance to taxi on the runway given the original instructions above?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! It would be much easier to follow your question if you could tell us which airport, and preferably include an airport diagram. For questions about regulations and procedures, please always tell us which country you're some about. The tour may be helpful to get more information on how this site works. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ Were there X's painted on the runway? $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ Not if you're a US Senator. $\endgroup$
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @Pondlife! I didn't want to post the specific airport for privacy reasons so I tried to make it as clear as I could without a diagram. I did edit for country location though as per your suggestion. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ There were no X's painted on the runway. It was not closed; just inactive. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 13:38

2 Answers 2


Yes, you need an explicit instruction (not clearance) to taxi on any runway - and you got one!

The controller told you to "taxi on [runway] 10" which is about as explicit as it gets. If he did not want you to taxi onto the runway, he would have explicitly told you to hold short of runway 10. Note that it doesn't really matter if the runway is "active" or not. In the eyes of ATC, a runway is always a runway. Don't expect the controller to say something like "cleared to enter runway xx" - because it is not a clearance, but an instruction. The phraseology used will be along the lines of "enter runway xx", "taxi on runway xx", "cross runway xx" etc. - never "cleared". The only time you will hear "cleared" and "runway" in the same sentence is in a takeoff clearance or landing clearance.

That said, you did exactly the right thing. If in doubt, stop and ask. Especially when it comes to runways, if in doubt, never assume you have been instructed to enter a runway. Runway incursions are very dangerous, and the controller would much rather clarify an instruction instead of risking a collision.

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    $\begingroup$ Although it is not a "clearance", when ATC gives an instruction like, "Cross runway 21", the common pilot response is "cleared across runway 21". (It may not be proper phraseology, but I do hear it alot) $\endgroup$
    – abelenky
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ FAA-land used to allow crossing an "inactive" runway without an explicit instruction. That changed several years ago, but confusion about the new rules persists, even among instructors. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ And when you receive instruction to enter a runway, your readback must include that instruction and your full (non abbreviated) callsign. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 15:24

J. Hougaard is correct. In “FAA-land” you also need clearance from ATC to be on a runway regardless of if you are in an airplane or not. You do not have to hear the words “clear” or “cleared”.

Typically, the instruction you get will be to “cross”, “taxi”, “back-taxi”, or “Line Up And Wait”. I’ve even heard the probably non-standard “do a 180”. If ATC does not want you to enter the runway, they typically say “Hold”, “Hold at” or “Hold short”. In my experience, that will be the last instruction in their string of instructions.

They typically will delay giving you further instructions until they are ready to clear you to enter the runway. I believe that is not always the case. ATC may be allowed to give you instructions in their entirety the first time to allow you the opportunity to write them down prior to beginning your taxi. It is still your responsibility to stop your aircraft wherever they told you to Hold until cleared to proceed.

As a paratrooper jumping onto an active airfield, we had spotters in touch with ATC stopping us at the edge of the runway until they received clearance for us to cross on foot. Nothing like staring down a Southwest Airlines 737 on takeoff coming straight at you at over 100 knots (actually happened). Those engines are much lower to the ground than a C130. I was not thinking of runway incursion reports when the wing passed over our heads.

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    $\begingroup$ Side note, but why would they even allow parachute jumping over an active airfield? That just seems like an inherently bad idea from the get-go... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman - We did it quite a lot on military airfields, civilian/military combined/mixed use airfields, and smaller commercial airports (only during air shows). It only takes about 5 minutes for an Air Force FAC/TAC/controller or an Army Pathfinder (in the past) to take total control of the airspace for the jump. And, only 2 minutes for the actual exit of over a platoon-sized element of soldiers from a C141. Then, control of the airfield is given back to regular traffic. Paratroopers will tend to avoid the hard asphalt runway if possible, and land in the abundant amount of turf. $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman -Slightly before my time, they did it “Just Cause”. 😜 $\endgroup$
    – Dean F.
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman All the civilian jump zones near me are at airports. That way, they don’t have to go find the jumpers and bring them back to the airport. The jump plane beats them to the ground and picks up the next load, then takes off again as soon as the air is clear. It’s about as nuts as you’d expect from people who jump out of planes for fun. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 18:57

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