Should We Even Use the Term Tarmac Anymore?

Originally derived as an abbreviation for the term tarmacadam, the term tarmac is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “material used for surfacing roads or other outdoor areas, consisting of crushed rock mixed with tar.

Should We Even Use the Term Tarmac Anymore?

Using the term tarmac is something which has been bothering FlyerTalk member readywhenyouare for a long time: “Please remove the word ‘tarmac’ from your vocabulary”, readywhenyouare strongly pleaded in this discussion — and if you cannot access it, the reason is because it resides in a forum on FlyerTalk which is not open to the general public. “Just don’t use it. Please.”

Of course, that only paved the way for fellow members of FlyerTalk to post content using the reviled term in any way possible to cement the irony of the request: as puns; in photographs; or simply reiterating the word over and over, again and again, in a repetitive fashion…repeatedly recapitulating — despite links to two articles which were cited with links…

…and both articles were written in 2014 — which on the surface seems like a sheer coincidence.

First Article

Will Rogers World Airport Oklahoma City

The wider outer strips with the faded black line down the center to the left and right of the airport are the runways; the narrower inner strips are the taxiways; and the large paved areas are the aprons. No tarmac exists at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City — or at any other airport, for that matter. Imagery ©2016 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2016 courtesy of Google Maps.

This article written by Ken H. of AeroSavvy claims that there is no official definition for the term tarmac in aviation when describing the parts of an airport on which the tires of airplanes roll. “This is pretty simple, yet the press gets confused all the time. Airplanes move about on three (and only three) surfaces on the airport.

  1. 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).
  2. Taxiways are the ‘roads’ airplanes take to get to and from the runways.
  3. The Apron is the place where airplanes park to board passengers and refuel. The term ramp is outdated but still commonly used in North America. Apron is the internationally accepted term for this area of the airport.”

Second Article

“If tarmac and ramp aren’t the official terms, then it’s got to be the apron. This is in fact the official term used by both the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which advises on aviation practices worldwide, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates aviation in the U.S., to designate the area at the airport where parked and serviced at airports.”

That is according to this article written by Andrew Sawyer of RDU Cruising Altitude — which is the official weblog of Raleigh-Durham International Airport — who explains that the apron is a busy place and is “the part of the airport where vehicles and airplanes share the same space. The many movements on the apron are not generally controlled by the air traffic control tower. At large airports, aprons are governed by their own towers while at small ones it could be left to each pilot.”

Sawyer continues that a “series of pavement markings separate the apron from the taxiway. Vehicles and persons are required to get permission from the air traffic control tower before crossing those markings and entering what’s called the movement area of the airfield.”


Tarmac is a trademark of this company based in the United Kingdom which manufactures building materials and construction solutions.

The term was apparently also a trademark of at least three different companies based in the United States over the years: Tarmac Roadstone (USA); Titan Florida LLC; and Tramac America, Incorporated.

I think I road this one far enough. It is time for me to route this article towards the summary…


I had replaced the term Jetway in articles written for The Gate with the generic term jet bridge quite some time ago because Jetway is actually a registered trademark of John Bean Technologies Corporation for its apron — not tarmac — drive passenger boarding bridges, which were first developed by Food Machinery Corporation before being rebranded as the acronym JBT Corporation in 2008.

Although searching at The Gate comes up with articles which use the term tarmac — whether the usage was my own or of someone else — I thought about the term tarmac and realized that the part of the airport which it was supposed to describe was never really definitively clear to me; so from now on, I intend to use the proper terminology of the parts of an airport.

One of my camera bags is manufactured from a company called Tamrac — and it is actually made quite well. Should I instead call it an arpon or a taxwiay?

Furthermore, should the use of the term tarmac be assigned to an unknown person named Mac to whom we ascribe that it is the pain in the asphalt and beat the tar out of Mac; or should we just hang the apron and call it a day?

Perhaps the term tarmac should never have been used to describe any surface at airports in the first place…

With aprons in the background, airplanes line up on the taxiway as their pilots prepare them on approach to the runway prior to taking off. Did I use those terms correctly? Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Should We Even Use the Term Tarmac Anymore?”

  1. Christian says:

    So we can call a nose tissue a kleenex, a small bandage a band aid, but can’t call a non landing strip portion of the airport, which is flat and concrete a tarmac? Both sad and strange. Thanks for explaining why a jetway is no longer called a jetway, though.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I think you might find this article interesting, Christian:

    2. Ken Hoke says:

      Hi Christian,

      When I ask for a Bandaid or Kleenex, you know exactly what I want.

      The media regularly uses Tarmac to describe runways, taxiways, aprons, even airport parking lots. I have no idea where (or what) the Tarmac is, and I have flown airliners for 30 years.


  2. Mick Russom says:

    NO MORE TARMAC! Please stop using tarmac. It does exist anymore in the modern airport. We have asphalt and concrete and call the not runway not taxiway part of the airport the apron.

    Another word that need to be stopped is “penned” for writing. Utterly disgusting how that has spread of late.

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