Whoever wins the AOPA Sweepstakes 172 will have to get to know the airplane’s Garmin 650 nav/com. And that just got a little easier.
Flight Training Apps has just released Flying the Garmin GTN650/750. Flight Training Apps owner/operator Dave Simpson is giving the winner of the Sweepstakes 172 a free copy of the app, retail value $39.99.
I’ve been going through the app in the last week, and I can tell you that, even if you have some familiarity with Garmin products, it’s a nice training tool. Concise video segments take you through the basics, and there’s a really useful tutorial on planning and executing a VFR flight from Gillespie Field (SEE) in San Diego to Catalina Airport (AVX). (And now I really want to land at Catalina.)
Thank you to Flight Training Apps and Dave Simpson for this fun and useful addition to our Sweepstakes 172.
Learn moreabout how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.
January has turned into February, which in some places is the worst part of winter. The air is cold, the ground is hovering around freezing, and precipitation this time of year often consists of ice, snow, or sleet.
Looking back to my days as a full-time general aviation pilot, the lesson that was constantly pushed on me regarding icing conditions was pretty simple: Avoid them at all costs. That usually meant not flying, which meant that a lot of winter days were spent on the ground.
The airlines operate under a different mantra: While there are some forms of weather that are unsafe, that definition is of a much smaller scope and bandwidth. If there is any way to get an airplane safely airborne, then you’re going flying. The running joke is that it doesn’t matter what’s on the radar or The Weather Channel; we’re going. There’s some truth to that.
In the Part 121 world, snowy weather is countered with deicing operations. The deicing fluids are numbered Type 1 to Type 4, with Type 4 being the strongest. The others can be a mix of fluid and water—and in some cases, you can deice with hot water—whereas Type 4 is a 100 percent mixture of stuff you do not want to drink. It’s thick, it’s sticky, and it’s expensive, so it’s only used when necessary.
Every year there are subtle changes to the various deicing protocols as new information is gleaned from research and real-world operations. From an operational point of view, two things are paramount. The first is the holdover time (HOT), which is the amount of time the crew has to get airborne after being deiced before the fluid loses its effectiveness, and the precipitation type. Mixed precip is the hardest to work with, because you need to use the most conservative HOT. For a long time, ice pellets were a challenge, and it’s only in the last few years that HOTs have been developed for pellets. At the extreme end is freezing rain. Simply put, you’re not going with freezing rain. It affects the wings, brakes, and runway surface.
If you’ve never been exposed to flying in icy weather and you’re looking to fly for an airline or a corporate flight department, take the time to do some research on deicing ops. Don’t worry about the gritty details, because every carrier’s program has individual requirements and nuances. Two carriers operating the same airplane may deice differently—for example, one will deice with the flaps up while the other will do so with the flaps down. But you should have a basic understanding of the different fluids, when they’re used, and what the limitations are. And you should take the time to fully understand your operation when you get on line.
And last, but not least, try to get trips that have you pointing the nose south after the deicing is complete.—Chip Wright
Quantifying the nature of General Aviation in Alaska is a big challenge, when it comes to advocating for our needs in the state. Whether arguing against losing weather reporting stations or evaluating proposed rule changes, the data collected each year by the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey (GA Survey) helps establish our case.
Alaska IS different!
Any of us who have flown in the lower-48 know that Alaska is indeed different, in many ways. Ownership of our airports (most are operated by the State of Alaska), the density of weather reporting stations (low), towered airports (few), make up of our fleet (think tail-wheeled aircraft), our reliance on aviation (high), and many other things make us different. The GA Survey designers recognize that, which is why they do a 100% sample of aircraft owners in the state. That means YOU should by now have found a flyer in your mail box, which is a personal invitation to participate in the survey.
Look for this flyer in your mail box. It is your invitation to participate in the GA Survey.
How hard is it?
Not difficult to do, but takes a little bit of preparation. Sit down with your pilot log book, and add up last years flight hours. They would like a breakdown of your uses, in percentage, including categories like business, pleasure, instruction, proficiency, etc. Other questions ask about the kind of equipment installed in your airplane, including types of GPS, and whether you have equipped with ADS-B. Total time on your aircraft is another question, along with your average fuel burn. It took me about 15 minutes to complete the survey online, using the website provided on the notice. If you are not comfortable with that, give a call or fire off an email and they will send you a hard-copy form, along with a post-paid mailer.
Who gets the data?
The survey is conducted by Tetra Tech, an independent research firm, on behalf of the FAA. No personal information that relates back to your aircraft is released, just summary information that allows both the government, and organizations like AOPA to quantify GA. Things like how many active aircraft are operating in Alaska, how many hours they flew, and how they are equipped. This helps AOPA and other aviation organizations when it comes to advocating for you. If you would like to look at the results from previous years’ surveys, check it out at: http://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation_data_statistics/general_aviation/
Even if you didn’t fly last year, or sold your aircraft, please respond to help round out the picture. If you have questions or need more information, please call Tetra Tech toll free at 1-800-826-1797, or email [email protected]
If you already completed the survey, thank you. If not, please do so today!
As you can see from the beautiful photo, the stars aligned this week and we were able to complete our planned air-to-air photo mission of the Sweepstakes 172.
One of the challenges of shooting air-to-air photography in the winter…in Maryland…is to find a background that isn’t gray-green-brown landscape. Maryland hasn’t had any snow this year, so we didn’t even have a winter wonderland to photograph. The ground shots we took last week positioned the airplane against a turbulent-looking gray sky.
But Senior Photographer Chris Rose is used to dealing with these kinds of issues. We headed northeast to Prettyboy Reservoir, which sits in a forested watershed in Baltimore County. It’s outside the Class B airspace that surrounds Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and it’s also outside the Special Flight Rules Area. The reservoir provided the lovely setting for the Sweepstakes 172.
PIC in the 172 for this trip was Mike Filucci, vice president of flight operations and the Pilot Information Center. Mike is a highly skilled formation pilot who owns a Van’s RV4.
Piloting the photo ship was Editor at Large Dave Hirschman. He owns an RV3, and I think he speaks formation flying as a second language.
Ferdi Mack, senior manager of the PIC, joined us on this mission as safety pilot. His job was to watch for traffic and transmit Chris’s position requests over the air-to-air frequency to Mike.
Though I’ll admit my heart still sometimes jumps up in my throat during photo shoots, Mike and Dave put safety at the front of every mission. Chris finds the best in every airplane he shoots. Look for more photos in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.
Learn moreabout how you could win a Cessna 172 in the AOPA 172 Sweepstakes.
There is a certain irony that the ability to physically taxi, takeoff, and land in sufficiently deep snow with the Cub is something I can only do in places where it snows very little. Locations that regularly receive snowfall tend to have an analogous condition that runways are plowed and cleared; hence, testing soft field skills really doesn’t get to happen. Here in Spain, I finally had the chance to do it, as we got a hefty amount of snow in La Cerdanya.
This idea of flying in the snow originated at my grandfather’s private field in upstate New York, outside of Buffalo, in prime lake effect snow regions. He would disappear to Florida for the winter, entombing aircraft in his hangar, only to return the next spring, when things started turning green. Meanwhile, I was stuck staring at an unused and snow covered runway for months at a time, driven to the point of insanity as a kid knowing there were multiple aircraft in perfectly good order sitting in a barn 300 feet away. A pilot that lived five miles away flying his Super Cub with skis all winter only made it worse.
Thus, when I obtained my student pilot permit at age 16, I would alleviate the insanity by taxiing the PA-11 around in the middle of winter, anytime the snow was shallow enough to allow it to move in the first place. First, I had to get my father’s permission, as he owned the airplane. He didn’t fly (an odd juxtaposition of concepts, I know) and had reached his prime years of middle-aged malaise, so his perpetual boredom with life had to choose between an overly-enthused miscreant teenager being in the house, or tranquility knowing that same said miscreant teenager was playing in the snow with his freshly-restored airplane. I usually got the green light after citing maintenance directives not to leave an O-200 idle for more than a month at a time, lest rust develop on the rings.
I learned very quickly how much snow the Cub can handle, and how much it cannot. Fluffy snow has no reasonable limit, if the moisture content is extremely low. Wet snow can be quite favorable, up to eight inches of the stuff, if it’s wet enough to allow the tires to roll on top of it. While the Cub doesn’t have bush tires, my grandfather did put oversized tires on the airplane, for which I am grateful. Snow drifts are pretty much a non-starter, as they are relatively compact due to wind breaking up snow crystals. By all means, if in the thick stuff, do not stop. The moment the airplane stops moving in thick snow, it is not going to resume, no matter how much power is applied. It will become necessary to pull it in reverse and ram through the blockage with some momentum.
I also had the chance to learn about carb ice the hard way, having the engine literally quit on me while taxiing around in snowy, foggy weather, having to hand prop it and get it started again.
All of these teenage boredom-driven shenanigans have come in handy in a number of places. We received over 10 inches of snow in one storm here in Spain, and another 5 inches a few days later. I was out of town, and came back to fly as soon as the weather cleared. As the flying club does not plow the runway, nor are there taxi lights due to extensive glider operations, I was greeted with a massive sea of white, as I was flying on a snowy, overcast day. To get to the takeoff point, I had to triangulate between trees, the windsock, and a chair left sitting in the field for glider operations, remembering where the runway is supposed to be.
Spain….in the snow.
Runway and taxiways below. La Cerdanya, Spain.
Many have expressed concerned that snow would flip an airplane on landing. My rationale, which has worked for many years, is that if the airplane cannot taxi, it isn’t going to takeoff, so flipping on landing is an unnecessary concern. If the airplane can taxi without excessive resistance, much less takeoff without flipping over, landing will more than likely be ok, presuming that tire conditions remain the same. I am sure wet snow freezing on the ground during the course of the flight, landing angle, change in speeds, and the effect of idle power versus takeoff power could have some definite impacts. So far, conservative decisions have saved me any trouble.
My larger concern at the time was the incredibly flat and diffuse light. Making out the ground was quite difficult (even while taxiing on it), and I was aware of warnings given to pilots after installing skis, that flat light can be dangerous. I decided that my landing would consist of methods used at night with a defective landing light: configured to land, making note of features on both sides to judge vertical descent. Thankfully, the tires made imprints into the snow during takeoff, providing for a short three-dimensional feature to use when landing. A video of the entire flight is below.
Aside from this particular flight frolicking in the snow, there is much about winter in the Pyrenees that is new and different. Unlike North America, weather here is bizarrely consistent. We went 3 weeks in December with full sunshine, uninterrupted, and 4 solid weeks where peaks approaching 10,000 feet did not receive a shred of additional snowfall in the middle of winter. However, when snow events do come, whether a northerly flow from France (which affects only one side of the valley), or a Levante event from the Mediterranean out of the south, it lasts for days on end, angry rain, snow, wind, or whatever atmospheric mechanism is in place. Temperatures are extremely consistent, with a daily variation that is typical of high altitude, yet relative lack of reasonable change between high and low pressure systems. I can best liken our weather to what is experienced in high altitude coastal mountains of California (which are coincidentally largely protected and therefore no one lives there).
From an aviation standpoint, air is incredibly stable vertically from late October onward, with scarcely a bump at all. Occasionally, I run into orographically-induced turbulence (rotors), though it is quite rare that it is bumpy. Even downdrafts are pleasant and tranquil, albeit still a strong warning to change course. From the lowlands of Catalonia to ridges at 9,000 feet, the air is extremely placid, similar to what I experienced when I was based in Leadville, Colorado and flew on pleasant, sunny winter days in oxygen-starved high altitude terrain.
All images below: not a single bump during these flights.
Sunset, Andorra-Spain border.
Pedraforca (8,223′, 2.506m)
La Masella (8,488′, 2.587m)
Coll de Pal, with Montserrat on the horizon.
Overcast layer on south side of Cadí ridge, clear in La Cerdanya. Its VFR on top…..
To revisit an old subject, I still haven’t landed anywhere else. Part of the problem is a record-breaking inversion present in the Catalonian lowlands (above image as an example), where Lleida saw one hour of sunshine in the month of December. That region, the easiest as far as terrain is concerned (flat like the Midwest), happens to now be the most unexplored, where the highest and craziest areas are getting greater coverage due to better weather and conditions for photography. I have thought about landing somewhere for the sake of the blog, and opted to avoid letting the tail wag the dog for the time being, as there is plenty to see in a three-hour tank of avgas. Stay tuned; I am planning a few ambitious adventures.
See if you can pick out the traffic. I didn’t see the aircraft or hear it on the radio until I sat in front of my computer for post processing.
Snowshoes are part of my standard emergency gear in the event of an emergency over terrain with deep snow (along with a tent and three days of food stored in the baggage area). See next image for an example.
Terrain roughly 20 minutes northeast of the airport.
Planning, Precision, Performance: how formation training can help us all be more proficient pilots.
I used to think that formation flight was dangerous for the average pilot. When asked by Mooney Caravan formation pilots why I didn’t partake I would say something like, “I don’t want to fly so close to someone I don’t know.” In July of 2016, I attended my first formation clinic held in Chino California. Later that month I flew right seat in the Mooney Caravan arrival into Oshkosh/AirVenture. Before those experiences, I suppose I had a certain amount of naïveté that allowed me to hold the belief that non-military G.A pilots would not be safe to fly formation. Boy was I wrong, on so many levels.
I have just returned from the sixth annual Gunfighters Formation Clinic at Yuma International Airport/MCAS. The three-day multifaceted event had something for everyone and gave us an opportunity to improve formation skills, demonstrate proficiency for mass arrivals to AirVenture/Oshkosh and socialize with the other, now hopelessly addicted, formation pilots.
For the second year, the Gunfighters Formation Clinic included training opportunities with the Red Star Pilots Association. The Red Star Pilots Association is a federal 501(c) (3) non-profit whose mission is to promote and preserve the safe operation, display and enjoyment of all aircraft — jet to prop, aerobatic, sport, war bird and utility — especially those originating in the current and former communist block nations. They are a signatory with national Formation and Safety Team [F.A.S.T.] This allows them to train, qualify, and manage civilian formation pilots in the United States and Canada for the safe conduct of formation flight displays in the US and Canadian air show industry. Several of our attendees were awarded their wingman or lead cards at the training.
Our FBO Host was Million Air FBO. James “Curly” Combs the General Manager of Million Air gave us an incredible experience. The facilities and staff were top notch. The food from their Jet-a-Way Café was down-home and delicious. Yuma International Airport is a large airport facility that shares runways with the Marine Corps Air Station. I assumed that perhaps the FBO might reflect a larger more corporate feeling. My assumption couldn’t have been further from the actuality. Once arriving I immediately felt like part of the family.
Any aviation volunteer knows that there is a lot that goes into the planning and execution of a formation clinic, or for that matter, any flying event. The behind the scenes work that starts several months prior to the event is extensive. Safely and effectively mixing a full range of formation pilots, IP’s and safety pilots is a daunting task that requires a dedicated Air Boss with a substantial background. Airspace planning, ingress/egress routes, altitudes, sector frequencies, and publications take a great deal of thought and effort. Not to mention training materials, and standardization of instruction/mentoring. Kudos to organizer Chuck Crinnian, Air Boss Larry Brennan and all the others.
Just over forty airplanes came in for the weekend. The Thursday night ground school covered numerous topics including:
2 Ship Formation Procedures
Turns in Route
Element Approach and Landing
VFR Traffic Pattern Recoveries
Taxi and Shutdown
Formation Maneuver and Rejoins
Four Ship Formation Procedures
Then our challenge was to actually fly those procedures on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We began each exercise with an extensive brief. For me, this led to an increase sense of security knowing there was a procedure in place. I was paired with a seasoned CFI or Mentor pilot both days. The weather and landscape were beautiful in Yuma. Unfortunately, while flying formation I had my eyes glued to Lead and couldn’t see the majesty. The second day I got to fly Lead in a two-ship formation. I got a better look at the scenery that day.
All missions ended with detailed debrief covering negative and positive elements of the flight. Psychologically, the flying is challenging not only because of the proximity of other aircraft, but of the new nomenclature to be learned and maneuvers. I always find it interesting to be a “learner.” As a professional psychotherapist, aviation writer, and presenter, I am most comfortable leading and being an expert. Being a newbie was an exercise in patience with myself as I learned and grace when I made a mistake.
As is often typical with training of any sort, my abilities the second day were better than the first. The formation flying itself was very mentally and physically challenging. Taking off and landing in elements is a thrilling experience. I pushed myself to fly as precisely as possible and to increase my comfort level flying close to Lead. My level of focus was so intense that I found myself fatigued at the end of the day. Both nights we had a chance to share dinner as a group and to establish bonds of camaraderie.
Overall, the training experience was excellent. With focus, perseverance and encouragement the skills were all within my reach. I feel strongly that my formation training has made me a safer and more precise pilot. I would encourage all pilots to investigate formation training in their regions. I also left Yuma feeling like I had made some life-long friendships. I look forward to attending at least one more clinic before Oshkosh, then on to the mass arrival. We also learned the two most important rules in formation flight. #1 Don’t hit Lead, and #2 Refer to #1.
For more information on formation training and arrivals to OSH17:
Pilots are often held to a very high standard. Even the average private pilot is often viewed with a mixture of admiration and respect, and it’s easy to understand why: Flying is not something we do naturally, and many feel that it’s beyond the average person’s ability.
Move into the professional ranks, and those standards go even higher. While the non-aviators of the world may not know the full extent of the training we undergo, they know it’s intensive and often difficult. Add in the acquisition of experience, and it’s not hard to understand why pilots get an awful lot of questions at a neighborhood party.
Now, throw into the mix the fact that there are only a handful of airlines in the United States, and chances are that nearly everyone will be at least familiar with your place of employment. They know that you are expected to meet certain standards of decorum and behavior at work.They may expect those standards to carry over beyond work.
I was recently on a trip when I saw some of the unfortunate side effects of this come out. In certain cities, it’s common for crews from a number of different airlines to use the same hotel, and those hotels are often very high quality. It’s also common for those hotels to be the same ones that many of the passengers utilize. I was in a hotel restaurant chatting with crew members from several airlines, mine included, when one of the pilots of another carrier began to severely disparage his own company. Now, we all have legitimate gripes about where we work—it’s only natural—and within any particular industry, many of those complaints are universal and are often a point of jokes and humor laced with a bit of sarcasm.
But complaining about something doesn’t mean you want to get into a rant or even a rage. In this case, the pilot was getting more and more vocal and more and more upset. The issue at hand was fairly insignificant, and to his coworkers, it was getting to be embarrassing. A few of us quietly slipped away to avoid the association, but his peers wanted to get him calmed down before he further embarrassed himself or their company. Another diner in the restaurant had apparently been on the pilots’ flight that day, and said something to the rest of us about not wanting to fly on that carrier again. He made it clear that he would be contacting the company and registering his dismay.
I’ve written on this blog before about the need to control the amount of alcohol consumed on a trip. But that’s not the only behavior that needs to be kept in check. Much of what we might get upset about is not easily understood by nonpilots. The perception is that we all make tons of money and don’t work very hard, the truth be darned. Belly-aching about work in public is almost never going to end well.
I have no doubt that the pilot in question was confronted by his coworkers or his chief pilot about his behavior, and he was probably made to feel ashamed about his histrionics. It’s important to remember that no matter who you work for, when you work for a public company such as an airline, you are always representing your employer—even if you don’t want to be. It’s too easy for someone to lodge a complaint about your personal conduct.
Don’t give them an opportunity. It isn’t worth it.—Chip Wright
It’s counterintuitive, but statistics clearly show that you’re more likely to have an accident or incident on the ground than in the air. Think about the hangar rash, ground loops, runway overruns, gear up landings, blown tires, and other maladies you’ve probably seen.
As I often remind students when we’re talking about flight safety, the worst aviation accident in history occurred on the ground when two Boeing 747s collided in the fog at Tenerife Island in 1977. (You might say 9/11 was worse — and you’re definitely correct — but nothing that happened that day was an accident.)
The propensity for problems on the ground applies to security, too. Since 2001, general aviation has become necessarily familiar with key controls, door/canopy/prop/hangar locks, airport access restrictions, gate codes, SIDA badges, and more. It’s a major part of our flying lives on the ground, like it or not. And for the record, I definitely do NOT like it. Every time I walk up to a Cub, TravelAir, or Stinson, the very way the airplane was designed speaks to the innocence of its era. It’s as if those who built these elegant flying machines couldn’t conceive of a world where someone would want to harm them.
Anyway, the same security concerns exist for corporate and charter operators, which are far more closely related to the rest of general aviation than to the airlines. Instead of a couple hundred airports, we fly to thousands of different ones around the country — indeed, around the world. Airliners often fly 18 or more hours per day, plying a limited route system and stopping only for maintenance or at well-lit terminals and jetways.
Business jets? Not so much. We’re as likely to end up on a dark, quiet ramp of a small reliever airport as anyplace else, and the aircraft will often sit there for days while we lay over at our destination.
That’s why security is so important to us. And unlike the airlines, biz jet pilots take care of most security precautions personally. Even at my company’s home base — one of the largest and most prominent business aviation airports on the planet — in the past couple of years, aircraft have been attacked by taggers, iPads have been stolen from inside the cockpits, and mentally unstable people have snuck onto the airport in an attempt to access our airplanes. The stories I could tell…
If that’s what happens in the nice areas, imagine what a prominent target that shiny multi-million dollar jet makes when alighting in some of the world’s most blighted places abroad. The threats are real, and on a side note, they extend to the people as much as the aircraft. Two months ago, a business jet crew was enroute to a Marriott Courtyard hotel near Mexico City when a van cut out in front of their taxi. The kidnappers then exited the van and proceeded to pull the crew from their vehicle. The crew was held for approximately six hours before their release only after the kidnappers received some form of ransom either from the crew or the company/entity they fly for.
Anyway, to counter these threats, we take extra precautions to secure the aircraft. We’re helped by the fact that the manufacturers of these jets usually include security mechanisms which are typically lacking in the older reciprocating GA fleet, like internal window locks to prevent the emergency exits from being opened from the outside, beefy locks on the many access panels, ports, and doors, etc. Many of these airplanes came with an electronic security system built into the airframe as well, though it’s not always utilized by operators.
We’ll also apply tamper-proof security tape over larger entrances like the main door, baggage door, and aft equipment bay door. At some locations, private security is hired to provide another layer of protection. Our destinations are rated for their level of safety as part of the dispatch process, too. Local handlers are mined for their expertise and knowledge. And as pilots, we do our own homework about each airport and city.
When we return to the airplane to get it ready for the next departure, the interior and exterior are swept to check for any sign of tampering. Even if nothing intentionally nefarious has occurred, a curious kid who hops the airport fence at 3 a.m. and starts poking around in a landing gear well can do plenty of damage to exposed tires, hydraulic lines, or electrical wiring. As any pilot can attest, airplanes are amazingly strong and yet surprisingly fragile. Too much torque or pressure applied at the wrong place can break an air data probe, pitot tube, or other component as easily as a trained martial arts expert snapping an adversary’s limb.
As the proverb goes, forewarned is forearmed. On the ground as much as in the air, smart pilots and operators will utilize every tactical advantage to keep their aircraft and passengers safe.
It can be hard to put together an aerial photo shoot in the winter when you’re based in a state that isn’t California, Florida, or Arizona.
Last week we thought we had a perfect weather day to shoot the AOPA Sweepstakes 172. The prospect of an unseasonably warm day in January was making Senior Photographer Chris Rose pretty happy, because he’s the one who has to fly hanging half out of the open door of the photo platform airplane, and it gets cold at 4,500 feet in January.
We lined up pilots for the photo platform and subject airplane–only to discover that we didn’t actually have a photo airplane. And the back-up photo platform, a Cessna 182, wasn’t available either. Mission scrubbed.
Luckily we do have a wonderful 3-D model of the Sweepstakes 172 as created by Craig Barnett of Scheme Designers. We’ll keep trying for a good weather day.
You might notice something else new on the airplane–the N number. N739HW is now N172WN (172 win). Of course, if you win 172WN, you can change the N number to whatever you like. But we hope you’ll stick with 172WN for a little while, anyway.
It doesn’t normally stand to reason that airlines would encourage any activity that would cost money, and one of the most expensive things a crew can do is to execute a go-around.
The airlines plan fuel down to the ounce, and the flight almost never leaves with anything more than is legally required to safely operate the flight. That is, taxi fuel, reserve, and the projected burn for the flight are all part of the planned fuel load, and it’s almost never a full set of tanks. The dispatcher or the captain may add some fuel based on certain contingencies, such as potential weather delays, shifting headwinds, or higher than expected traffic volume at the destination. But fuel is expensive, and carrying fuel requires fuel, so there isn’t a lot added. Go-arounds, while always a possibility, are not necessarily planned for. The expectation is that a professional crew can get the airplane on the runway on the first try.
And that’s the problem.
The airlines track crew performance on hundreds of variables, and approach performance is a big piece of that. Approach performance is broken down into lateral and vertical navigation performance, airspeed control, configuration parameters, and where the touchdown occurs, to name just a few. Generally speaking, crews fly well within the established limits, the landings are safe, and everyone goes home happy.
But just as in the general aviation world, mistakes occur, and sometimes approaches are salvaged. The professional crew is human, and it’s not unheard of for an approach to become unstable. But, often, the crew is able to get things trending in the right direction and put the airplane down on target and on speed. The problem is that there are times when a go-around is a safer option—a better option.
Go-arounds are too often viewed as a failure, and it’s easy to see why. Chances are that the flight is not going to be on time, which could delay the subsequent departure(s). There is a definite monetary cost measured in the thousands of dollars of the extra fuel being burned, not to mention the extra time paid to the crew. And, more obviously, there is the simple fact that you didn’t do your job, even if doing your job means that going around is correct choice of action. Add to the fact that airline crews almost never go missed—many fly their entire career without a missed in the airplane—and there is a mindset of “we’re going to make this work no matter what.”
The airlines long ago adopted a policy—pretty much across the board—that go-arounds will never be questioned. Many have gotten away from any sort of paperwork or reporting by the crew, which used to be common, in order to reduce any barriers to performing go-arounds. If anything, they are now encouraged, because no price can be put on safety. Further, the airlines also share a lot of their non-competitive airplane and crew performance data, which allows them (along with the FAA) to spot potentially troublesome trends. By encouraging go-arounds, not only are crews making safer decisions and not worrying about potential repercussions, but data is also collected on approaches and ATC practices that may need to be redesigned or even eliminated.
Encouraging go-arounds also has an added benefit: Crews will be more likely to go around sooner, which decreases the risk of something going wrong near the ground, which reduces risk. Subconsciously, this will help encourage proper aircraft control sooner, which will reduce the risk of a go-around in the first place. So, as you can see, what goes around…goes around!