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Can You Take Off With Another Plane On The Runway?

This story was made in partnership with AOPA Pilot Protection Services. Make sure your certificates are protected before your next flight. Learn more and get started here.

Have you ever been cleared for takeoff with another airplane on the runway? How would you handle this scenario?

Rejected Takeoff Report

We found the following NASA ASRS report from a pilot flying a C172 at a Class D towered airport.

Tower cleared my aircraft for takeoff on Runway 35L at XXX without delay for landing traffic. When I rolled my aircraft to the runway centerline, I noticed another aircraft exiting the runway that hadn't cleared. I queried Tower prior to starting my takeoff to ask if the aircraft cleared the runway, and Tower directed me to disregard and start my roll. I decided to abort the takeoff. Just a few seconds later, the other airplane was exiting on a taxiway. Tower re-cleared me for takeoff and I proceeded normally.


It's Called "Anticipated Separation"

According to FAA JO 7110.65 (3-9-5), which you can think of as the "rule book" for Air Traffic Controllers, "takeoff clearance needs not be withheld until prescribed separation exists if there is a reasonable assurance it will exist when the aircraft starts takeoff roll."

Based on their experience, if a tower controller believes a preceding aircraft will clear the runway, waiting aircraft can be cleared to depart.

We've gotten this clearance ourselves, both with aircraft landing and taxiing off the runway, as well as aircraft takeing off in front of us.


If You Do Reject A Takeoff...

Keep in mind, anticipated separation doesn't guarantee that the aircraft in front of you will exit the runway. If something happens to the aircraft in front of you, they may need to stop.

Pay close attention to the traffic around you, and make sure they clear the runway as you start your takeoff roll. And if you ever have a question, or something doesn't feel 'right', ask ATC.

If you do need to abort your takeoff because of traffic in front of you, remember the basic rules. The general procedure for a rejected takeoff is simple: Power Idle, Maintain Directional Control, Maximum Necessary Braking.

Keep in mind, however, that you should always follow the procedure your aircraft manufacturer recommends.


There are a few things you should take into consideration when performing "maximum necessary braking." If you're taking off on a runway with thousands of feet remaining, you probably don't need to aggressively brake as you reject the takeoff. With aerodynamic braking, you might not really need to use your brakes at all. Just use enough braking action to safely stop the aircraft before the end of the runway.

What About Landing?

Tower Controllers have the option to land an airplane on the runway when it's occupied as well, but the separation standards are a little more strict. Click here to learn everything you need to know about landing separation on the same runway.

Live from the Flight Deck

Has This Happened To You?

Have you ever been cleared for takeoff before another airplane fully exited the runway? Tell us in the comments below.

Protect your certificate with AOPA Pilot Protection Services. Learn more and get started here.

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