What Is A Go Around?


It is quite interesting when highly experienced passengers start to talk about aviation itself, the business of actually flying an airplane.   It occurs to me that you could spend millions of miles in the back of an airplane, blissfully unaware of the goings on in the front.

Over at the One Mile At A Time blog, there is a discussion about a procedure known as a “go around”.   I occasionally see these types of discussions in FlyerTalk forums as well as other blogs.    As both a commercially rated pilot and a frequent passenger, allow me to clear the air on the subject of the go around.

As the name implies, the go around is what happens when the pilots abort a landing attempt and go around to make another attempt.    They may also choose to divert to another airfield.    The procedure for a go around is to increase power to maximum, begin climbing, and then to begin to withdraw the flaps and retract the landing gear just as if the aircraft had just taken off.

Why Go Around?

There are many reasons a pilot would abort landing and go around.   Perhaps weather conditions are not favorable for landing.  There may be a potential conflict with another aircraft on the runway.   There may be a vehicle or even wildlife on the runway. The pilot’s might have a warning light indicating some sort of problem.   The instruments might momentarily fail to receive a signal.    In one case, I choose to go around simply because I was about to sneeze!   Basically, any time a pilot does not have confidence in completing a safe landing, the wise courses of action is to go around.

Should I Be Concerned?

Absolutely not.   By performing a go around, your pilot is taking the most conservative approach to ensuring your safety.   Virtually all landing accidents could have been avoided by a timely go around.   Frankly, I am surprised that there are not more instances of go arounds on commercial aircraft.     One factor is that a go around is a fairly costly exercise.    In this day and age, pilots are under tremendous pressure to reduce fuel consumption.   Going to full power and flying around at low altitude are the best ways to burn more fuel.   Furthermore, airlines are trying to save fuel by reducing the amount of extra fuel carried to the extent that a go around could force a pilot to become so low on fuel that he or she would have no choice but to declare an emergency.

What About Aborted Takeoffs

This is the other unusual operation that people are curious about, and is even less common than a go around.   In this instance, not only does a pilot decide not to take off, but the decision must come early enough in the landing process to ensure that a safe stop can be made on the runway.    Otherwise, the pilots may actually take off with a less than perfect aircraft with the intention of returning for an immediate landing.   Frankly, if I was in an aircraft that aborted takeoff on the runway, I would be concerned.   If the pilot can maintain control over the aircraft and all of the brakes and thrust reversers work as they should, the flight will come to a safe, if exciting conclusion.   On the other hand, the reason for an aborted takeoff may be serious, and many notable accidents have occurred when the pilots were unable to stop the aircraft before the end of the runway.

Ultimately, there is little you can do as a passenger in either situation.   Just make sure to pay attention to the safety briefings to wear your seatbelt when taking off or landing.   Just remember, commercial air travel in this country remains incredibly safe.     Even when air travel was more dangerous, far more people were involved in accidents driving to and from the airport than were ever the victims of airplane crashes.

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