Blog. Britain's Busiest Airport

How to marshal an aircraft

It’s all very well marshalling your colleagues, but how about a real Boeing 747?

In Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport Series 4 we saw aircraft marshaller Ian learn to guide an aircraft on to its stand the old-fashioned way.

These days airliners at Heathrow generally arrive at the gate unaided, using electronic wizardry known as Stand Entry Guidance (SEG). But our Airside Safety professionals still need to learn the old-style ‘table tennis bats’, just in case. And now, so can you.

Aircraft marshalling for complete beginners

As you may have seen in the show, it takes practice to direct a real live wide-bodied aircraft. So trainee marshals try it first using vehicles or each other.

Ian even confessed to marshalling his brother off the living room sofa when they were kids.

If you’d like to try it too, here are the basics of aircraft marshalling.

1. Identify the gate

Extend arms in front, then raise above headThe pilot needs to know where they are going, so hold your wands, table tennis bats or other signalling gear right out in front of you, pointing upwards and at arm’s length. Then, keeping your arms straight at the elbow,  raise your arms above your head, keeping the wands pointing up.

2. Turn left

Left hand gives 'straight ahead' signal, right arm outstretched 90 degreesThink of this one as ‘turn to port’ (ie the pilot’s left). So you’ll extend your right arm out in the the direction you want the aircraft to turn, and with the other hand ‘beckon’ it forward from the elbow. The speed of this motion tells the pilot how rapidly to make the turn.

3. Turn right

Right hand gives 'straight ahead' signal, left arm outstretched 90 degreesOr if you prefer, turn to starboard (the pilot’s right). You’ll no doubt have worked out that this is the reverse of ‘turn left’.

4. Straight ahead

Bend extended arms at elbow and beckon towards youHere you use both arms. Bend them at the elbow to ‘beckon’ the aircraft forward by moving the wands up and down, from chest height to head.

5. Normal stop

Slowly cross wands above your headFully extend your arms (and wands) at a 90-degree angle either side of your body. Then slowly move them up above your head until the wands cross. If you need to stop your ‘aircraft’ in a hurry, the signal is the same but repeated, and more abrupt.

Of course, there are plenty of other signals to tell the pilot when to switch engines on/off, when the chocks are in/out etc. But if you just learn these five, you’re well on your way to being a confident aircraft marshaller.

And that’s it. We’d love to see how you get on, so do share your home videos on Facebook or Twitter. Alas, we can’t promise to offer you a job …

Source: CAA CAP 637 Visual Aids Handbook

Originally published May 2018

Heathrow: Britain’s Busiest Airport

The documentary cameras return for a behind-the-scenes look at the people who keep Heathrow running. Meet air traffic controllers, sanitation engineers, Border Force officers and front-line Passenger Experience Managers – and share their daily challenges in this ‘city within a city’ where no two days are alike.

HBBA main page

One thought to “How to marshal an aircraft”

  1. Es impresionante el aeropuerto! Además hermoso y muy bien señalizado! Voy a volver. Amo Reino Unido.

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