It’s NOT A Tarmac! Airline Terminology

tarmacNews services often mess up aviation terminology. Even aviation “analysts” and “experts” get mixed up from time to time. As a result, the public gets confused. No worries! AeroSavvy is here to help with a crash course in aviation terminology.

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Parts Of An Airport

Airplanes move about on three (and only three) surfaces on the airport.

Runways are used by airplanes to takeoff and land. Regardless of what you hear on the news, we don’t sit for hours on runways when we’re delayed. We certainly don’t load or unload passengers on runways (unless there is something very wrong with the aircraft).

Taxiways are the “roads” airplanes take to get to and from the runways.

IMG_4938editThe Apron is the place where airplanes park to board passengers and refuel. The term ramp is outdated but still commonly used in North America and a few other places. Apron is the internationally accepted term for this area of the airport.

Notice that I didn’t mention tarmac?

airport diagram

It’s Not A Tarmac!

News media and a few government sources often use the term “tarmac.”  I have seen it used to describe runways, taxiways, aprons, parking lots, and sidewalks; and it’s actually incorrect. Aviation professionals cringe when we hear the word.

The Problem: There is no official definition for “tarmac” in aviation. One news report’s use of the word may be (and often is) completely different from another. If a reporter has enough information to make the distinction, it makes sense to use terminology that precisely describes where the story takes place: Apron, Taxiway, and Runway.

Tweets from a few networks. Using correct terminology instead of “tarmac” would better describe where the event happened.

So, what IS a tarmac?

Tarmac (short for tarmacadamis a road surface material patented in 1901 in the UK. It is an improvement on the surface developed in the 1820’s by John Loudon McAdam. It’s essentially crushed rock mixed with cement then sealed with tar. By today’s standards, it’s a very crude surface and could never handle a heavy aircraft. Tarmac has not been used as an airport surface material for decades.

Calling a taxiway “the tarmac” is like calling it “the asphalt” or “the reinforced concrete.” It makes absolutely no sense and causes confusion.


Take a look at the above CNN story from 2007. Were the passengers “trapped on a runway“? No. Were they “stuck on the tarmac“? Nope. The jet was actually parked on the apron (CNN was correct that the passengers were miserable for 8 hours).

But wait…   The FAA uses the term “Tarmac Delay” so it MUST be a thing!

Yes, “Tarmac Delay” can be found on Department of Transportation and FAA documents. Unfortunately, “Tarmac Delay” was coined by someone in Congress who didn’t know better. Congress used incorrect terminology, so now the FAA is stuck with it, and so are we.

There are still no locations on an airport that are officially defined as Tarmac. Remember: Apron, Taxiway, Runway, Gate.

Time For Boarding!

Jet bridge in Adelaide. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

You know that nifty, elevated tunnel you walk through to board the airplane? It’s called a jet bridge and it’s located on the apron at the gate.

Other common names are jet ways, gangways, aerobridges and jetties (UK). The first jet bridge was installed at the San Francisco airport back in 1959. An instant hit with passengers, the jet bridge did away with walking on the dangerous apron and climbing stairs. Be careful when you use the single-word terms Jetway and JetBridge. These are trademarked® brands of jet bridges.

Uh, Stewardess? Could you get me a refill?

If you’re one of the older crowd (or the Fox News tweeter), please don’t refer to your cabin crew as stewardess, steward, stew, air hostess, babe, trolly dolly or cart tart. Those terms departed back in the 70’s.

Even in 2008 we didn’t call them “stewardess” (but apparently Fox News did)

The correct term is Flight Attendant. And you don’t need to differentiate between “male flight attendant” and “female flight attendant.” Just flight attendant – we’re all aware that both genders have careers as cabin crew members.

1968 United Airlines “Stewardesses” – Courtesy SDASM Archives on Flickr

One more point about your cabin crew. Their primary duty is to get you safely off a burning, smoke-filled aircraft in the event of an accident. Flight attendants go through extensive emergency training and are willing to put themselves between you and a fire. Treat them with a little kindness and respect next time they toss you a bag of peanuts.

Who’s flying this thing?

The pilots are flying, of course! Terminology describing pilots can be confusing. Terms like flight crew, pilot, captain, co-pilot, first officer, second officer, flight engineer, and navigator get bounced around a lot.

The Captain and First Officer.  Courtesy: Kent Wien –

Here’s the correct terminology: The two crew members operating the airplane are pilots and make up the flight crew. Both pilots are fully qualified to fly the aircraft. The person in command of the airplane is the captain and usually sits in the left seat of the flight deck. The other pilot is the first officer (or F/O) and usually sits in the right seat.

On most air carriers world-wide, the two pilots take turns flying the aircraft. The captain, however, always has the final authority. Very long flights sometimes carry extra captains or first officers to satisfy legal rest requirements. The extra crews are sometimes referred to as International Relief Officers (IRO) or cruise pilots.

It’s confusing when the news media makes statements like: “The pilot made an emergency landing.” Which pilot? Was it the captain or first officer? Most likely it was both of them working together. The terms flight engineer, second officer, and navigator are nearly extinct. Technological advances in aircraft design and navigation have eliminated the need for these crew members on most airliners.

Trivia:  In a few countries I have visited, both pilots are sometimes referred to as captain by airport employees and people outside of the aviation industry as a show of respect. When a flight crew walks into a hotel, they are often greeted with a friendly “Hello, captains!”

What have I missed?

Have you heard other misused aviation terminology? If so, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to leave it in the comments below.


    • Carlin was one-of-a-kind. I saw him live while in college… life changing. And then he became Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station.

      • I’ll always say steward or stewardess. I could give a rat’s ass what this site says, pushing their own opinion and agenda. I won’t change words I’ve used for over 40 years just because someone says so. Stick it!

    • Nowadays, Aussies only say ‘tarmac’ in relation to airports and ONLY when the plane is stuck sitting waiting on the hard surface. They use ‘tar’ for the softened road covering, ‘bitumen’ for the hardened road covering and ‘asphalt’ (pr. ‘ash-felt’) when that covering is at a school.

  1. “Trans-oceanic flights sometimes carry extra captains or first officers to satisfy legal rest requirements.” Cross-continental also carry extra crew. Hong Kong to Europe is all over land. Also don’t forget the IRO definition. Some of our Professional IRO’s would be offended. Also some airlines use the term “cruise” pilots (2 stripes) but never get a landing in the aircraft until they get the third stripe.

    • Martin, thanks for the input! I made a minor edit to the post to reflect your suggestion. I don’t want to make it too complicated!

      • Even though flight engineers with Second Officer rank are pretty much gone, Second Officers still exist at some airlines outside North America. These are cruise relief pilots used when more than two pilots are needed. Sometimes they have limited ratings that allow them to sit in the seat only in the cruise (landings are periodically practiced in the sim). At some airlines, these second officers have one stripe, sometimes leading confused airport staff to ask if they are engineers.

        Junior First Officers exist at many airlines, with two stripes. These are typically pilots in their few first years in the right seat. In some cases the upgrade from Junior First Officer to Senior First Officer occurs when they pass a check for relief command, meaning they can be in charge while the captain rests on flights with augmented crews.

        Moral of the story: While four and three stripes are pretty well standardised across the world, ranks and rank insignia are often airline specific.

  2. Ken, you use the term ‘Apron’ in your post. I think ‘Ramp’ would also be appropriate. Just a personal view point.

    • Hi, Mike! If you peek at the “Parts Of An Airport” section of the post, you’ll see that “ramp” is still common in North America, but it’s not used elsewhere. My airline calls its parking areas “ramps” as do a few others. “Tarmac,” however, just needs to quietly go away! 🙂
      Thanks for reading!

      • Yes, but as someone who spent 10 years of my life out there, the term “ramp rat” (for flight line technicians) sounds a lot better that “apron rat” or worse yet, “Tarmac rat”.
        And Ken H, you might want to add the term “Flight Line” to your official list.

      • Agree with James on this one. During my 7 year USAF “career” as an Avoinics Mavigation Systems Technician, we referred to it as a ramp too. Sometimes the term apron was used, but not nearly as often as ramp.

  3. Is it not the media’s job to research their facts? Why should we have to educate them, when it’s their job to misinform us? Maybe that should be a clue to turn the jokers off and every one do their OWN research when it comes to most things in this world. Oh the aviation “experts” yes they’re entertaining!

    • I agree that the media should do more research before broadcasting. Sometimes we need to give them a little push. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  4. So we know (a little) something about aviation, and we know how badly the media constantly butchers all stories regarding aviation. Ever wonder about the stuff they are reporting on that we don’t know so much about? They are probably butchering that stuff too and we don’t even know it. Scary to think!

    • In the days before 24hr news programming, I think the reporting was more careful and accurate. Now, they seem to just throw stuff out to the public, right or wrong.

      • Ken, I believe you nailed it. Remember when newspapers and magazines were our only/main sources of written media? Editors were paid big bucks to assure stories were accurate and without visual errors, (i.e.; spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.). Now almost every online article has obvious errors, even in headlines, due to the pressures of 24hr reporting and competition to be the “story-breaker”. Attention to detail is a thing of the past, even due diligence to check facts. To assure the use of correct terminology, well, I doubt this is part of any checklist moving forward. We used to call this integrity now it’s ridiculous. God Bless and Godspeed.

  5. Great piece, the last one hit home for me. My dad is also a 767 captain for a cargo airline, and whenever i am introduced to a coworker of his, Captain always precedes the name, always!

    • Ryan, after retiring from AA, I had the opportunity to fly for Jet Airways, out of Mumbai, India. Everywhere we went around the system, we were always greeted as Captain, regardless of the position held. Even in civilian clothes, around the hotels in which we stayed, we were always greeted as “Captain.”

  6. > The person in command of the airplane is the captain and usually sits in the left seat of the flight deck.

    I wonder if it’s maybe necessary to clarify that “in command” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the person flying the airplane (i.e. PF)?

    • Hi Bruce. Thanks for the comment. I did mention that the captain always has the final authority and that the pilots take turns flying.

      Your comment should eliminate any remaining confusion. Thanks again!

  7. I blame Dan Rather for putting tarmac out to the general public. When a TWA flight (847?) was hijacked to Libya, Rather said over and over that “Navy diver Steven Stedham’s body was thrown to the tarmac”. He may have even been correct in that case, but the rest of the media must have thought “Hey, that sounds cool. Tarmac must be where airplanes taxi!”

    The big question is how can it be stopped? Drives me crazy. Whenever I hear someone use the word, I automatically assume the know NOTHING about aviation!

    • Hi Ken,

      Unfortunately, “Tarmac” has sort of hit critical mass. No one knows what it means, yet many seem comfortable using. It doesn’t help that the non-aviation paper pushers in US Congress incorrectly used the term “Tarmac Delay” in legislation. So now it’s a part of our law. 🙁 Oh well!

      Thanks for reading!

      • Ken. I used to let mistakes like “tarmac” bother me but I’ve been told by grammarians that meanings can morph over time. So now when I hear someone say “I could care less”, I no longer feel compelled to say “at least you care some”. All said I realize aviation terms need to be exact. Thanks for your great information Ken.

  8. Yes, why use the word “tarmac”, which everyone understands, when you could use ramp, apron or taxiway and then have to explain those terms :/

    • Everyone might “think” they understand what a tarmac is, but they don’t. There is no aviation definition for the term. I have heard the press use “Tarmac” to describe taxiways, aprons, runways, even public access roads and airport terminal parking lots. If you state that an aircraft “has a problem on the tarmac.” No one really has a clue what or where you’re talking about.

      And please… Let’s give the general public a little more credit. The average person knows what a gate, runway, and taxiway is. Most will quickly understand what an apron is if the term is used in proper context.

      Thanks for reading,

      • I’ve been flying for seventy years, been licensed for forty, never been to Tarmac Airport. Judging by the name, I’m assuming it’s somewhere in Scotland?

        (I didn’t see the “Happy face” at the end of yours, either)

        • LOL! No worries. Printed communication (even with smiley emoticons) is always susceptible to misunderstanding and crossed wires. My apologies if my earlier reply didn’t come across as humorous.

          According to Wikipedia…
          “The Wick Airport at Wick in Caithness, Scotland, is one of the few airports that still have real tarmac runways.”

          I’m somewhat skeptical of this claim. I would be surprised if a municipal airport used a material patented in 1901 for their runway. Far better materials are readily available to do the job.

          Keep flying, David!!

  9. Ken, This is really a shame. I can’t even make a bad joke without being right. The Scotland reference was there purely for supposedly humorous reasons, referencing the “Mac” in “Tarmac”. And since there’s no smiley face on your reply (and I don’t have the energy to look it up this morning), I’m trusting that you are not making an equally absurd attempt at humor (or Humour, as they say in Scotland).

    “Keep your heart in the sky, and your feet on the ground”.
    Damn hard to fly like that!

      • Wick Airport recorded less than 4,000 aircraft movements in 2017 so they are possibly still using an old tarmac runway!
        I saw your site recommended on and it is very interesting.

        • Hi Robin,
          Someone on Twitter told me that Wick no longer has a tarmacadam surface. I haven’t verified it, but I would be quite surprised if they still had tarmac.

          Thanks for reading!

  10. You crack me up :D. I am a security instructor in Copenhagen Airport and currently in the proces of putting together an English airport and aviation vocabulary for our employees. After reading your article, I’ve deleted “tarmac” (which we’d never ude in Danish either)! Same thing for media in DK, though; everything that goes on in the airport, happens on the runway.

  11. I’m one of those newspaper people who wanted to “get it right,” so I went hunting for the appropriate way to talk about what I now know is the taxiway. Thanks for this handy site, and thanks to the several local long-time pilots who are going over my story and helping me get it right. The feature is about a tiny Wisconsin airport with grass runways, taxiways AND apron. Lots of deer and sandhill cranes, but definitely no tarmac.

  12. Thank you so much for this article! It reminded me of the email I sent to a local station after they broadcast an early-morning Honor Flight departure. Drove me right over the wall! Here is what I sent them:

    What a ridiculous report on the preparations for today’s Honor Flight. The reporter kept referring to the plane being on the runway. Please inform her and all of the staff about the names of the parts of the airport:
    The plane was being pushed back from the GATE, not the “tarmac”

    It takes a long time for the plane to be unhooked from the tug and for the pilots to get clearance to taxi, therefore her “here we go” as the tug was being decoupled was a bit premature…has she never been on a flight?

    Then from that point she breathlessly, and repeatedly, kept referring to the plane being on the RUNWAY….FYI ..the runway is a long way from the gate, so that people and equipment are not blown away from the jet blast when planes take off. The plane at that time was actually on the RAMP.

    Her uninformed ‘reporting’ took away from the importance of the story about the veterans’ trip. Please pick up any children’s book about airports and have her study it for next time she reports from an airport.

  13. Awesome article! Glad to see there’s others out there who share my frustration with this subject. As a pilot who commutes to JFK for work, I must say that unfortunately a lot of the blame for this continued misinformation and confusion is the fault of the airlines themselves; specifically the employees that the flying public deal with the most – the flight attendants and gate agents. I’ve lost track of th number of times I’ve heard FAs make announcements using incorrect terminology themselves. For example, telling people to “remain seated with seatbelts buckled, we’re still on an active runway” when the plane is taxiing on a taxiway, or even a ramp(apron – NO ONE in the USA I know uses the apron term, but yes its ICAO, and they do call it that in Canada, and US pilots think it’s weird). My personal pet peeve is some FAs, when you get the double-chime indicating the plane is descending through 10,000 feet, make an announcement saying “Ladies and Gentlemen we have been cleared for landing…”. You’re 10-50 miles away from the airport at that point! You’re not even on tower frequency!

    There’s a great one right there. Everyone thinks that ‘Tower’ is the one and only ATC frequency. When the guy went crazy and started a fire at Chicago Center, all the reporters rushed to O’Hare to see the fire at ‘the tower’, and then were confused for hours how Chicago was having such ATC problems when there was nothing wrong at the tower. As silly as it is I think everyone should be forced to watch ‘Pushing Tin’ as an in-flight movie.

    I think a lot of this is 1. They’re not pilots, and not trained by pilots, and and know as little about the actual intricacies of flying as the general public and 2. They tell the passengers what they think will get the response they want, even if it means telling white lies and falsehoods. They use phraseology that sounds more ‘urgent’ like “on an active runway” instead of “on a ramp waiting for taxi clearance” to make the PAX sit up and take notice.

    So yeah, I can understand reporters getting confused when they as passengers are getting confusing and contradictory information from the airline employees.

  14. OMG, I was sitting here a bit after midnight on this computer (that I can’t seem to separate myself from) surfing the Web and happened upon your 2014 article, “It’s NOT A Tarmac! Airline Terminology,” and you are so, so correct about the media.

    I happen to be a simple, old, pleasure pilot (Commercial/Instrument ASEL, only current VFR/Day right now) and have been immensely enjoying the “sights of flight” for over forty years. I am also recently retired (after more than 40 years) from a local TV station. I had been doing various technical jobs behind the scenes over the decades, one of which for the last thirteen years (up until retirement in Sep. of 2017) was the video editing of news stories. And as far as I was able to tell, for the most part, the information we put out on the air was usually pretty damn accurate. It wasn’t always 100%, but we are humans so that’s to be expected.

    However, of all the aviation/space related stories that “I” have ever seen on the air in the last four decades, whether local, national or international in origin, only TWO (2) of them had their entire content 100% technically correct. That’s absolutely incredible (in a negative way). BTW, one of those two stories just happened to originate from our station. I was both amazed and pleased. But what’s bothered me over all these years was the fact that our “local” station would invariably get an aviation story technically incorrect, even though there were usually a couple of employees behind the scenes that could be easily reached at that moment whom were either pilots (or at least were somewhat aviation savvy), including the station’s own helicopter pilot, from which a reporter or writer or producer could run a story by, just to double-check for accuracy. As far as I know, that never happened and I really do not understand why that was.

    Although, I do remember an occasion when one of our “directors” who was neither a writer nor a pilot (but was somewhat familiar with aviation in general) came to me to double check on some copy that a reporter/writer/producer had written. He said that he had gone into the computer and changed the copy to read differently (which was not his job in the first place), and wanted me to see if he got some terminology correct — which he did. BTW, this one incident is not included in the two stories I referred to earlier as having 100% of their content correct.

    Additionally, on one occasion, I myself, just happen to read some not-quite-correct aviation-related copy in the computer. I could not believe that it read, “. . . and then the NTSB cleared the plane to land.” What? I damn-near fell off my chair! So I went to the writer/producer and suggested he may wanna change the copy to read “Control Tower” instead of “NTSB,” which he did. I think if I had not (accidentally) noticed that copy ahead of time and then later seen/heard it read the incorrect way on the air, I would have been so overwhelmingly embarrassed for our TV station that I probably would have gone outside and hidden under a rock somewhere.

    However, on a more positive note, because of the constant, weeks-on-end, around-the-clock coverage of the horribly tragic disappearance of the Boeing 777 of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on 8 March 2014, I did notice that reporters everywhere started to become more and more technically knowledgeable about airliners and the way the aviation industry actually worked. Even though that was a pleasant surprise, it is still interesting to note that, generally speaking for some reason, management folks in the media seem to only desire accuracy and perfection in news stories in apparently every subject area, except those aviation-related. Hmmmmmmm?

  15. G’Day! I know what tarmac is and so am left wondering that every time I fly out of an Australian airport the airline staff announce various activities (smoking, using mobile phones) are not permitted “on the tarmac”.

    • Hi Mark, there is no accepted definition for it. Those not aviation savvy use the term to describe runways, taxiways, aprons, gates, even parking lots. If you hear that an airplane is “stuck on the tarmac,” we really have no idea where on the airport the aircraft is located. Unfortunately, the term now seems ubiquitous.

  16. I’m so glad you have brought clarity to this issue! Even the Air and Space Smithsonian magazine makes reference to “tarmac” — in a recent article depicting aircraft parked outside a hangar at the Steven F. Udar-Hazy Center— on what appears to be a concrete apron.

  17. Reading through those made me think of how poorly the reporters get facts on rail accidents. Especially when the implication is that the train caused the grade crossing accident. Trains do rarely if ever go off the tracks and cause death. While folks are sad about the victim of deadly rail crossing accidents, they never think about the poor crew who could do nothing to avoid this and they will remember it for the rest of their lives. Mike Woodside Paragould AR. endmrw0226292104

  18. didn’t the term “TARMAC” begin to be used in Britain during the ww2 at airfields that where being constructed as rapidly as possible to distinguish between a grass field and a paved one.?

  19. I worked at ord den and dtw for over 30 years, I never even once heard anyone working there or flying into there say the word tarmac. There were runways, taxiways and ramp areas, these were all very thick cement. The only surfaces that might have been somewhat like tarmac were service roads for ground equipment.

  20. I’ve never heard an ATC tell a pilot to ‘contact apron control’, but I do hear them say ‘contact ramp control’ all the time.

  21. Thanks for contributing to the effort to help the media (and others) lose the term Tarmac. Not once, in my 38 years as an air traffic controller, did I use the terms Tarmac or apron. On any airport, aircraft park and move about on runways, taxiways and ramps.

  22. I haven’t seen tarmac since they quit using it on rural Mississippi roads in the late seventies early 80s where they used it to replace gravel. Because of the heat roads with this type of road metal tended to end up with a profile similar to dual ws as the road was deformed by traffic. Hence the relatively rapid change to more stable asphalt. Of course this problem wasn’t as apparent in England’s cooler climate.
    The term road metal also is an anachronism and derives from then Roman practice in England of spreading iron ore with the gravel to make a stable road surface. The ore recementing to firm up the road surface.

  23. Another term that’s become superfluous is “Roger That” Can you imagine what a controller would say if he heard that as a response!

  24. I uploaded this before, but it never seemed Terminal Area for the Maneuvering of Aircraft o stay. I first saw the word Tarmac in an old Aviation glossary, maybe through the AIM of the 1950’s. The original acronym went like this:

    Terminal Area for the Maneuvering of Aircraft.

    for the
    Maneuvering of

    • There is no doubt that the term tarmac is an abbreviated form of the word tarmacadam. Other acronyms are dubious at best.

      “Terminal Area” has been a well defined term by the FAA for decades describing class B, C, TRSA, TCA and other terminal airspace.

      It’s certainly possible that your acronym was used by someone in the past. But it’s doubtful that it was ever an official designation.

    • I like your definition. Its clear Tarmac refer to those paved areas where aircrafts move as distinct from that which people move around, the passengers area in a airport terminal. Meaning and usage of words changes with time And it depend on whether its from airline professionals which has to be clear and specific, or the public in general, the ordinary layman. Maybe the airports should officially change the meaning to this acronym. Another funny word is apron. Always remind me of the apron a mother wear in the kitchen lol

  25. I am happy to see more people unhappy with that use of tarmac. Now if reporters would quit abusing it, maybe we could see it fade away. I wonder if reporters use it so often is because they want to sound like they are in the know about airports. I have worked on airports such as ord dtw pwk den and never heard the word tarmac. Now if I could get it through reporters heads I could die a happy ramp rat.

  26. For 47 years now I’ve been telling people that I met my wife on the tarmac at Kadena AFB in Okinawa when she was a young Navy WAVE on the island for only five minutes. I am far too old to change my story now.

  27. Well maybe it was asphalt. I worked at 4 different airports pwk ord dtw den. I never once heard the word tarmac. I never, maybe it’s a British thing

  28. Your article is the gift that keeps on giving. I was watching a show where a character says, “The asset will be waiting on the tarmac.” I decided to look up the origin of that word, and what it’s supposed to mean, exactly. Well, one rabbit hole led to another, and now here I am, having some of my igorance relieved. I very much appreciate the time you took to write such a great piece! I even wrote a “goof” entry on IMDb that will hopefully be approved. 🙂

  29. Not exactly aviation, but long ago my first wife was an employee of an airline (Wein Air Alaska — which is long gone), and she told me the difference between a non-stop flight and a direct flight, the latter allowing for intermediate stops but no plane changes. These days everyone seems to use the term direct to mean non-stop. I’ve given up trying to correct them, but try to use the correct terms myself.

    Or am I wrong?

  30. More on Tarmac:

    I was watching “The Amazing World of Aviation Series on Prime. In Season 1, Episode 8, “Airports and Flight Attendants,” old news reel clips early ’60’s, make use of the word, “tarmac.” I have not finished it yet, but there were two references to “tarmac” in the episode. As news reporters back then were more accurate than today, I tend to believe that whoever did the report, referenced “tarmac” to something official. I do remember looking at a “Glossary of Aeronautical Terms” in my early days of aviation, starting in 1958, and seeing it as an acronym for the Terminal Area for the Maneuvering of Aircraft. I have yet to find it in an official publication lately, but will keep looking in older aviation literature.

  31. As I have said before…I worked at ORD DEN DTW and PWK for about 30 years and never once did I ever hear anyone say the word tarmac. The surfaces the planes moved on were the ramp,taxiways and runways. We had runways,taxiways and ramp. Don’t know where ramp came from, but the areas planes were parked on were always called the ramp no matter what material it was.

  32. “Tarmac” has burned me up for years, thanks for setting the record straight. In my profession (retired Army officer), the term “Shrapnel” sets me off. Shrapnel is a particular type of anti-personnel artillery round – usually lead balls in an inert matrix that are disbursed when a burster charge shatters the shell body. It’s use ended in World War I when it was found ineffective against fortifications. It was replaced by High Explosive, consisting of an HE material in a steel shell, This worked against both fortifications and troops. The wounds inflicted are by means of SHELL SPLINTERS or FRAGMENTS as the body of the shell undergoes FRAGMNTATION

  33. Well I worked at Den Ord and Dtw for a combined 30 years or so. I never once heard anyone use the term tarmac. The only paved portion of any of these airports that resembled tarmac were service roads for ground equipment usually going to somewhere like a post office. I also never heard the word tarmac used.

    I also worked for about a year at pwk, I think that was the code. That was Palwaukee field in I believe Wheeling Illinois, but I never heard tarmac there either.

    You know it’s really not a big deal, but it just rubs me wrong every time I see it.

  34. Well I think we beat this one to death. I have enjoyed the comments. I will finish off with the terms ramp and apron.I don’t know what the difference is, if any, but I doubt many ramp rats would want to be called apron rats.

  35. I always thought that ‘Tarmac’ was a mispronunciation of ‘Tarmat’.
    A mat or cover made out of tar.
    Can’t think of a meaning behind ‘Tarmac’.

  36. The accepted adjective to describe another airport, other than the planned destination, to which a flight can be diverted in an emergency, is “alternate”. But this is the wrong word. It should be “alternative”. “Alternate” means first one then the other, as in “I only work alternate weeks”. “Alternative” is the correct word, as this does actually mean another option, as in “We haven’t enough fuel to land in Spain, so the only alternative is to land in the Azores.”.

    • In North American English, “Alternate” has two different meanings (and two different pronunciations). “Alternate” (rhymes with “mate”) is the word you describe – something that goes back and forth.

      The second usage of Alternate in North American English is pronounced similar to “Alter-nit” or “Alter-net.” It means taking the place of, or a substitute.

    • I’m ok with “landing on water.” Seaplanes land on water all the time. Sully most definitely landed on the Hudson River. “Ditching” is another common term.

    • Flight Line is another term that’s hard to pin down an exact definition. I think it originated in the military as a row of aircraft parked on an apron, usually near a taxiway or runway.

  37. Anyone with a military background want to chime in? In doing research, it seems like the military in the past used tarmac more than apron?

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