I cringe when I hear the phrase “clear of the active” used over the CTAF at non-towered airports because the term “active” is totally meaningless; all runways are potentially active at a non-towered field.
One of the advantages of non-towered airports is that pilots can opt to use any of the available runways, regardless of wind direction. And yes, that means they can land with a sporty crosswind or a howling tailwind if they so choose, and as long as they are able to stop before they run off the end of the runway, no one cares.
When the winds are calm pilots may take off from either end of a runway or for the sake of convenience simply choose the runway closest to their hangar. Some days the elements present us with a unique opportunity to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings while other pilots are using the runway aligned with the winds. Some pilots prefer to use grass runways where they exist and conditions are suitable, and flight instructors can opt for the grass for soft-field training or because the winds are more favorable for that runway.
The point is that just because you don’t see anyone else using other runways at any given moment doesn’t mean they are not active.
What surprises me about this practice is that after fastidiously making explicit downwind, base and final radio calls identifying a specific runway, why then would anyone abandon use of those very same runway numbers and make such a vague announcement on the ground? It is not any quicker to say “the active” than any two numbers for the runway. Just so everyone is clear, you won’t find the phrase “clear of the active” mentioned anywhere in the FAA Pilot/Controller glossary and it is not sanctioned by the FAA.
While we are on the topic of transmitting clear of runways, when you make that call are you completely sure you are clear of all the runways? It is common for even small airports to have intersecting runways and I frequently see pilots exit one runway only to stop on another one and make that all too familiar call that they are “clear of the active,” all the while being oblivious to the potential for traffic landing or taking off on the runway where they are now sitting.
Sometimes pilots pick up poor habits because they see or hear other pilots doing them and the frequency of use may unwittingly imply legitimacy. But even common practices are not always correct or safe and this is one of them.
Beth Rehm, CFI