It Is Not Tarmac

“The airliner was stuck on the tarmac for hours because the temperature was too hot to take off…”

“Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch met on the tarmac…”

What is wrong with those statements?

The landing gear might have sunk into tarmac and got stuck but the taxiway was probably made of concrete, which is stronger than tarmac. When the temperature and density altitude are off the range of the takeoff data table, a plane is not legal to takeoff.

Clinton and Lynch met in an air-conditioned business jet that was parked at the airport.

These tarmac references over-specify the situation and get it wrong. It is usually sufficient to say at an airport or in a plane parked at an airport.

Tarmac is a material. Airplanes take off and land on runways. They travel to and from the runways on the taxiways. They park on the aprons, also known as ramps or at a gate. There usually is no need to mention the material.

When I was taking swimming lessons across from the Glenn L. Martin factory near Baltimore, I would watch the seaplanes taxi down the ramp into the water to go takeoff. The term ramp is not official FAA terminology but is commonly used instead of apron or taxiway going down to the water. Later, I became a lifeguard and a pilot, so I figure I was not too distracted. I had no idea at the time that someday I would land my own plane on a runway at that airport.

Reporters want to sound authoritative, using technical terms, but they do not know what they are talking about. Mixing coal tar with crushed rocks (macadam) and then steam rolling the surface is an obsolete method of constructing roads, parking lots, airport runways, taxiways and aprons (aka ramps ). Tarmac is short for tarmacadam.

Since WWII, coal mining in Britain is no longer dominant. Oil fields found under the ocean and in the Middle East, etc. are dominant now. Concrete from crushed rocks and asphalt from petroleum are the modern materials used for roads, runways, taxiways and ramps. I know of no current airports in the U.S. that are made of tarmac.

In the WWII movie, “Twelve O’clock High” the American B-17s used runways in Britain that were made of grass fields or tarmac. That might have been the last accurate use of the term tarmac. Dean Jagger won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in this movie in 1949, for saying more than just tarmac. Notice I use the term “movie” not “film”, which also over-specifies the material and in this digital age, is often, like tape, not used. With film, it was common to measure the time duration in “footage”.

Instead of referencing tarmac, please use terms like “at the airport”, “on the runway”, “taxiway”, “apron”, or “parked at the airport”. You do not have to mention the type of material unless on a very hot day, according to a recent report, a heavy aircraft sinks into the improperly formulated asphalt or on a very wet day, an aircraft sinks into the mud. Avoid sounding like you are trying to appear smart but are in fact ignorant.