Approach With Caution

 

Bob Baron, Ph.D

 

 

 

 

As a pilot, I have conducted my fair share of approaches, including some that were quite challenging. An example of one of my more challenging approaches occurred a few years back in a Learjet 25. I had onboard a relatively high profile passenger who chartered our flight for a one-way trip from Michigan to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. The flight was conducted in the early evening and the weather for the route was good VFR with some occasional light turbulence. Upon our arrival into the New York area, there was a significant amount of turbulence and windshear due to a strong cold front that had just cleared the area. Surface winds were out of the north/northwest at 15-25 KTS, with occasional higher gusts, and windshear was being reported by all aircraft landing in the New York metro area. The Teterboro ATIS reported that Runway 01 was closed due to construction, which meant that we would have to land on Runway 06 with a direct crosswind and windshear. Our arrival into Teterboro unfolded as follows:

 

It took everything I had to maintain a stabilized approach path. Below 500 feet the windshear was so bad that at times I needed full power to maintain our target Vref speed. I had a decision to make at about 200 feet; do I continue for the sake of getting the passenger to his destination, or do I execute a go-around and then try to sort out options, which included a diversion to Newark? I chose the go-around. At the same time, the passenger, who was visibly annoyed, came to the front of the airplane and asked why we didn’t land. I explained, and was then chastised because of his tight schedule and because he had someone waiting to pick him up. He said I would hear about it if we wound up in Newark. I informed him that I would try one more approach, and if we couldn’t get in, then we had no choice but to divert to Newark. He walked back to his seat (which he should have been in to begin with—with seatbelt fastened) and gave me a dirty look. I briefed my first officer that I was going to give it one more try into Teterboro. However, if the picture still looked the same, we would head to Newark without question. We were fortunate on our second approach; the windshear subsided enough to allow me to make a safe landing.

 

The next day, I received a call from the charter company asking why I had to conduct a go-around (since go-arounds are a fairly rare event). I gave them the details, and in the interest of safety, certainly felt that I made the right decision. The response from the charter company was that “I wasted quite a bit of fuel” on the go-around and that is a cost that the company would have to absorb. Not once was I commended for making a prudent, safe decision, as the captain of their aircraft. On the other hand, I am absolutely certain that if I would have landed and had a runway excursion accident, this same company would have been the first to ask how I could have made such a terrible decision to land in those conditions (if I were alive to talk about it).

 

Unfortunately, runway excursions are occurring lately with alarming regularity. They are happening in all segments of aviation, from General Aviation through commercial air carrier operations. In fact, within commercial air carrier operations, runway excursions have accounted for more fatalities than almost every other aviation accident category; second only to Loss of Control In-Flight (Source: Boeing). Reference the following runway excursion accidents...

 

 

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