Numerous variables passes through a pilot’s mind when he or she is in command of the airplane. All these variables must be properly ascertained by the pilot to ensure a safe flight.
Sometimes the decisions to be made are simple, like adjusting to a gusty crosswind in a light trainer. Other times, it can be as challenging as controlling an airliner when the electric trim decides to take a rest. There are numerous other situations between these two extremes.
In this long list of situations there is one item that is often undervalued except when it pops up. This is the decision whether to go around or not?
Some pilots decide to go around only when things are really bad. Now, there is no standard to define as to what is “really bad”.
There is a group of pilots who claim that they know the situation when they see it. There is a third group who reason that executing a go around points to the inability of pilots to make a successful landing the first time.
Whether it is blue sky or the one filled with clouds, we should be aware as to when to say it is enough. It is an important moment during flying for which we need to be trained.
In most cases pilots are not trained to be as good in executive go-around as in landing their airplane. Instructors are of the belief that they will be criticized for their teaching techniques that led a pilot to execute a go-around.
As has been confirmed by many accident reports, most pilots are not good in executing a go-around. In the first place they are not able to decide as to exactly when a go-around needs to be executed.
Secondly, most of them are out of practice, so much so that it is never thought of as an option in most of the cases.
In July 2010 three people including the pilot lost their lives while landing a Cirrus SR22 in clear weather and calm winds. The runway was 4,552 foot long but the plane was high and touched halfway down. The pilot executed a go-around only after the airplane bounced.
The airplane was then pitched up and entered a left turn only to nose dive back on the runway.
No evidence of mechanical failure or malfunction was found in investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. The flaps were, however, in full extended position.
According to the pilot operating handbook of Cirrus flaps need to be retracted to 50% at the time of go-around. Once the obstacles are cleared they are required to be retracted completely.
The probable cause of the accident was determined to be pilot’s inability to maintain control of aircraft at the time of go-around. What caused the accident was improper use of flaps and un-stabilized final approached followed by the pilot.
Lack of proper training or poor training to overcome undesirable situation is a problem associated not just with low-time pilots.
In July 2013, A Boeing 777 hit the seawall at the San Francisco International Airport near the approach end of the Runway 28L. The airplane was flown by three type rated pilots and none of them noticed the bleeding airspeed as the airplane approached the runway. When the go-around was attempted by the pilots it was already too late and the airplane touched the ground with its tail first.
In August 2016, another Boeing 777 made an unsuccessful go-around and crashed at Dubai International Airport. The plane was engulfed by flames soon after impact, however, everyone managed to escape by the time flames busted.
The final report is still being written by the General Civil Aviation Authority of UAE. However, the decisions taken by the pilots during the final few minutes certainly need attention.
The crew was alerted for wind shear by the automated system on final approach as the winds changed back and forth almost 180 degrees. The crew was also alerted by the onboard computer of the long landing.
The captain attempted for a second landing and pitched the plane for a climb. The gear starts to retract after six seconds. The 777 climbed only for 85 feet before it started sinking again. The two giant Rolls-Royce Trent engines gyrated in full power, but were unable to silence the “Don’t sink, don’t sink” siren in the cockpit.
With a speed of only 125 knots and landing gear still in transit, the fate of this Boeing aircraft was sealed.
Where are we doing wrong?
It is not easy to determine as to why a go-around fail. Take the example of August Emirates crash. It is important to take a closer look at the automation system of aircraft along with pilot’s understanding on how to use that technology.
In the case, the automation system of Boeing 777 worked exactly the way it was meant to. What looks like the crew was of the belief that auto-throttles will bring the engines to full power in case of a go-around. It was a mistake that was realized too late.
The auto-throttles will not get activated once the main gear of Boeing touched the concrete. It is because of this reason the engines were idle for so long.
The question that arises here is that how come pilot are ignorant or do not have the right information on how the automation system will behave in the wake of a go-around. The required level of proficiency can only be reached when the go-around maneuver is practiced regularly in a variety of arrival situations.
The best indicator of a good landing is a stable approach. It is a rule that is recited many times over, whether you are a Beechcraft Bonanza pilot or of an Airbus 380. It is easy to define “stable”, but when it not easy to define the final decision when an approach is considered unstable enough to execute a go around.
“Stable”, according to transport-category pilots, can be defined as 1,000 AGL point with gears down, final flaps in position and the speed of the aircraft is within the safety margin. In case the pilot has to correct to the standard still, than a go-around need to be executed.
However, in real life things are not as clear as the above lines read and pilots have continued with their approach in clearly unstable indications.
In case of Cirrus SR22, a stable approach means final flaps in position by 300 to 500 AGL with speed at 75 plus or minus 5. But, when a go-around will be necessary in case the aircraft is flying outside these parameters? Is there a need to worry in case the aircraft is flying at 74 knots?
It is clear that standards have been set for every maneuver, but as most of the pilots will agree, no two days are similar in the life of a pilot.
The only problem is that a go-around is the least practiced maneuver. This is the reason why so many pilots fail to execute one when they fall in such a situation. Only sufficient practice and experience can equip a pilot to answer the question “when”.
Knowing “when” is only half the battle won as the remaining half battle is to set the plane for the right go-around according to the prevailing conditions.
Even while practicing go-around, the pilot should put himself in different situations every time. In case a pilot want to be really effective in executive go-around, than it should be practiced in an unexpected manner in the simulator.
If you know that you will execute a go-around, your mind is half prepared, which is quite different from the real life situations. The unique feature of a go-around is that a pilot doesn’t know to the last point that it has to be executed.
Ask your instructor to throw you in a go-around situation on any day that is when you will learn on how to come out of it.
The researchers have realized that the maneuver is a rare one even for most commercial pilots. A short haul pilot may execute a go-around only one or two times in a year. In case of long haul pilot it may happen only once in two or three years.
Statistics have indicated that less than 5% pilots execute a go-around even in these rare occurrences. It has also been indicated that nearly 10% of the go-around have ended up in a hazardous outcome.
To prevent accidents arising out of a go-around, pilots need to train more often. Maintaining situational awareness is of utmost importance to pilots. Regardless of the type of aircraft we are flying, the safety margins have been created with the hope that they will never be needed actually.
Every pilot should create his or her own standard which should never be violated. Proper training will keeps us mentally and physically sharp to overcome the situation as and when it arises.
In the end, always remember, when you execute a go-around, your credibility as a pilot will never be put to question.