Archive for airline pilot

Holiday Air Travel: Let the Games Begin.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, flight attendant, flight crew with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2016 by Chris Manno

It’s that time of year again: let’s spend a gazillion bucks on air travel to spend an awkward holiday with people who make you crazy.

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That’s the American way, squandering the mileage awards one  might want to blow on an exotic vacation for tickets to share regret with others who’ve also abandoned fun stuff for family stuff. That’s what holiday travel is all about, and even though you won’t feel better about the commitment later (sorry), the voyage itself will be memorable if only for the diminished expectations and unexpected turmoil. Ready to fly yet?

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Granted, I’m just the guy in the cockpit. I don’t have to smile and make nice at your family gathering (trust me, I have my own challenge waiting) and once we land, I’m turning around and flying back home to my crew base. Meanwhile, for your sake, let me point out the obvious.

First, expect things at the airport to run slower than you planned. So, plan an extra 1.75 in your time factor for scheduling. Meaning, whatever time you allotted for say, security, multiply that by 1.75 and determine how much time you’ll really need. Allowing two hours for check-in and security? Allow three and a half. Worst case, you’re through early but even so, your blood pressure will be lower. Trust me, “those people” travel on the holidays, only on the holidays, and tend to slow the process down in ways you never dreamed.

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Second, know your shiitake (I don’t want to write “shit,” but you need to know your shit) to include flight number and date. Then, just Google your flight to find out the latest gate and time info. You won’t need to line up at a service desk or call a toll free number–just move quickly to your next gate or to the proper baggage claim at your destination. You’ll be way ahead of the crowd.

Third, take care of yourself. Cough up the cash once you’re on the secure side of the airport for calories and water. Yes, they have some of the former and much of the latter, but neither on your schedule. If there’s a delay or, in flight, turbulence (not uncommon), there will be no food for sale or water poured–because I’ll have my crew seated until when and if ever the turbulence allows them to be up and about the cabin safely. So buy some type of carry-aboard food and beverage and forget the sticker shock: as Dear Abby said, “There’s what you spend, then there’s what you spend when you travel.” Do it. Take care of yourself and those in your travel party.

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Finally, bring your patience and remember, this isn’t the dentist’s office–you’re not at the airport and flying here to there for a cocktail party horror story: you knew up front that the airports and airplanes would be crammed full, that winter weather would delay flights, and that flight crews are human and have limits, too.

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Hey, shut up.

Stay cool, be patient; know your shiitake and be calorized and hydrated. The rest is just a matter of time: you’ll get to that crazy family holiday deal and if you take my advice, the trip will be both tolerable and memorable–for the right reasons.

See you at the airport.

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Airline Pilot: Paint Me Another Landing

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline passenger, airline pilot with tags , , , , , , on October 21, 2016 by Chris Manno

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Passengers experience the approach from the back of the jet: sinking lower, corrections left and right, a wingtip dipping, maybe the mush of a rudder step against the crosswind. Landing soon. Right?

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So much more goes on beyond the locked cockpit door: one part land, two parts fly; a side order of go around–and all are acceptable.

You go to school in your head from ten, twenty miles out: what’s the wind doing? How’s the jet responding? What gets us between the final approach fix steady with all of the markers (pitch, power, roll and track) sinking through a thousand feet? And what will change?

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It’s a moving target: you have to change configuration drastically, but lock in the performance in terms of stable speed and descent rate. Energy management: need to slow AND descend–what’s the best bargain, what drag do you pay out to slow, descend and lock in the 3 degree glide slope?

Time is never your friend. You’d better know how the thousands of pounds of jet fuel on board translate into not only minutes, but miles: where you gonna go, and when, captain? Used to ask new captains I checked out, one hand over the fuel gages (you need to know this stuff, not look for it when I ask), how much time do you have?  When do we need to get the hell out of Dodge, and where will you go?

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Watch the jets ahead. What are they fighting? The widebodies on final and in the traffic pattern are a great visual aid: what are they doing? See those big old, tired pilots step on that rudder; watch the tentative wing-low; go to school–you’ll look smarter through 500 feet because they gave you a cheat sheet.

Think-feel-fly: be the solution, at 180 knots across the ground. Don’t just operate the flight controls–fly the jet.

Never mind the tower-reported winds–look around: smoke? Trees? Ripples on the water? And the living windsock you’re flying in–what does it take? Never mind what it should require, what the reported winds said it would take. Put it where you want it. Have those few extra knots in your pocket, the ones so easily pick-pocketed by faithless winds; carry the big drag (give me 40) in order to carry the big power. Your TOGA “get out of jail free” card is that much more readily cashed in, you’re actually driving through the wind to the runway rather than surfing the gusts.

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Match the cross-track to the steady state wind, ignore the gusts heckling to no good end. Believe in what you know, what the jet’s telling you–there’s more power than you’ll ever need hanging on the wings, manage it; just fly smart.

Small correction rates, as big a correction as is necessary–don’t be shy. The jet’s like a horse: she needs to believe you believe in yourself if you’re going to make the jump, to know you can handle the landing.

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It’s a weird conundrum, landings: you’ll never get credit for what you don’t do, never be forgiven for what you do. The answer is simple: perfection, then neither extreme alternative applies.

Taxi-in is the payoff. Silence is best, in my opinion. No need to reflect on what you just accomplished, just own it, bank it, quietly. You’re only as good as you last flight, and the next one’s waiting. Doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but it damn well better be pretty.

Humble up, and let’s go do it again.

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The REAL Captain’s Guide: How To Fly That Crap Weather Approach.

Posted in air travel, airline, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airline safety, fear of flying, flight crew with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by Chris Manno

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First, let’s define “real” captain. I don’t mean “real” in the sense of physical, tangible, bad-layover-clothes, mouth-breathing captain, although I’ve been one at a major airline for 25 years and counting. You’re “real” as a captain on Day One when you’re turned loose with the rating.

What I mean by “real” is as in, “get real.” That’s because we know there are several things you face as captain with the dogshit weather approach. First, there’s what you’re told. Second, there’s what you know. Finally, there’s where the reality plays out: from the final approach fix inbound at 180 knots across the ground. There’s stuff you need to do to be ready for that.

The first item, “what you’re told,” includes the OpSpec that allows you to do what you’re about to do: fly a big jet with a lot of folks–including your crew–into minimally adequate weather for landing. OpSpec includes a minimalist element (what’s the least we can send you into the most challenging weather?) that allows airlines to earn revenue for what you’re about to do.

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What you’re told also includes the prevailing weather at the time they told you, which is nowhere near the time at which you’ll actually fly the approach. If I sound like a captain who’s had that detail bite him in the ass–it’s because I am.

So, here’s the BTDT viewpoint that goes beyond the classroom and the manuals. Not interested in stuff beyond the books? Don’t need the BTDT captain viewpoint? Please close this blog page now. No harm, no foul. Best of luck.

Okay, still here? The others gone? Good.

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First, your approach starts in the chocks before pushback. No, I don’t mean “be the dork who starts stressing or worse, briefs the approach before engine start.” Rather, I mean be the captain the FO can rely on as soon as you sit down. Stay the hell out of his way as he (or she)  works. Respect–but check–the setup of the cockpit for takeoff. You ain’t perfect, so don’t expect your FO to be, and let him (or her) know YOU can be counted on as a team member to be sure you both do well from the first checklist. That’s what you want later: a collaborative, respectful environment where your FO knows you’re relying on each other step by step. The FO needs to be looking for and free to point out your screwups.

Second, “what you’re told” versus what you know can be tricky. Weather forecast versus delays you’ve seen versus altitude restrictions and the list goes on: variables, unreliables, despite “what you’ve been told.” But what everyone knows is this: fuel equals time. When that sixth sense picks at the back of your brain saying we might could use more fuel–you really do so get it before release. If you’re wrong (trust me, you won’t be–the only time you can have too much fuel is when you’re on fire) then you land with more time options. But if you’re at minimum fuel you’ll have to tear the seat cushion out of your ass after landing because your butt cheeks ate it up like horse’s lips do while you stressed about weather delays.

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Finally, downwind. If you’re flying, relax: you’re not that asshole captain showing how it’s done (okay, you really are) but rather, you’re doing what you know to your core you’re damn good at. So, be humble, be quiet, be methodical, procedurally correct and do exactly what’s called for. Show your FO how you want the approach flown.

FO flying? Even better: relax, back up everything done, think ahead of the jet and while you do, let the FO do the flying exactly as it’s supposed to be done. Getting slightly off track? Guide back to best practices with suggestions, positive affirmations and last resort–LAST RESORT–directive, which sounds like “Let’s go ahead and ____” or “I’m not comfortable with ____.”

Remember, if what you’re told hours ago before takeoff matches what you encounter at the final approach fix, that’s a coincidence. You fly “real” based on what you know, which includes every experience and subsequent intuition derived therefrom–apologize to no one, get the fuel you need and decide for yourself if OpSpec minimums are adequate to meet the challenge facing you in realtime. We don’t fly on paper, on a spreadsheet, or on a chart of minimums page. Remember the horse’s lips/seat cushion metaphors: get fuel, think ahead, respect your FO, believe what you know (school of hard knocks) and fly smart, conservative and REAL.

Then, from Final Approach Fix to touchdown or go-around, you’re smart, confident, safe, and real. No one can ask you for more and as captain, you cannot do anything less, nor accept anything but the best you can do, by leading, coaching and most of all, being real.

Fly safe, compadres.

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by Chris Manno

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The No-Drama Airline Cockpit

Set aside the Hollywood depictions of airline pilots in the cockpit struggling with emergencies, as well as the over-hyped tales from the passenger cabin of chaos and panic that hijack social media after any inflight incident.

Here’s what goes on with my heart rate and blood pressure in the cockpit when malfunctions threaten my flight: nada.

I tried to muster some adrenaline the last time — not that long ago, actually — that a jet engine quit on climb-out from an airport.

Nada. Business as usual: there’s a procedure for that. Have landed many jets, many times, minus an engine, even on fire.

Take it a step further: even if the other engine quits, there’s a procedure for that, I’ve practiced it and have 150% confidence that I’ll land the jet safely even with no engines. Again, no heart rate challenge, just a list of things to be done correctly, smoothly, and in no hurry — rushing increases the possibility of an error.

And I have 150% confidence in my copilot colleagues (I’ve been a captain for 25 of my 31 years at a major airline) who are just as thoroughly trained, tested and prepared as I am no matter what happens in flight.

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So I really don’t give a damn what befalls us — we’ll be just fine.

Whenever trouble starts, I think back on the advice of an old fighter pilot who wisely told me, “You just take a minute to breathe deep and say, ‘Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?’” before you take any action.

This advice goes way back with me. Before I was an airline pilot, I had my share of near disasters as an Air Force pilot: fire, explosion, typhoons, lightning strikes — the list goes on.

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Before that, in college, I couldn’t afford flying lessons, but skydiving was a fraction of the cost after I bought my own parachute, slightly used, but still. That got me into the sky pretty cheap and pretty often.

Perhaps that was the key inoculation for for me. I’d ration out my jump budget on weekends: one jump in the morning, one in the afternoon, each day.

One Sunday morning, tumbling through about 1,500 feet, I yanked the ripcord and out came a tangled mess — a streamer, as it’s called.

I did what I could, snapping the risers like the reins to a horse, trying to shake open the snarl. No dice.

Looking down, plunging at terminal velocity, say, 100 mph, I began to be able to distinguish individual cows in the pasture below where I’d impact in seconds if I didn’t get my reserve chute opened.

Even in that wild plummet, I knew that there was a very good chance that my reserve would simply tangle with the streamer above, and that would be the end of my life.

And there it was: I could panic and die — or hold my shit together and maybe live.

I distinctly recall the paradoxical thought in that moment that I’d rather die than panic, and that set me free.

I carefully, deliberately pulled the reserve ripcord but held the bundle closed, then with both hands — still dropping like a rock — I gathered the silk and threw it downward as hard as I could, as I’d been taught, to give it the best chance to blossom and knock the streamer aside rather than twist up with it.

I walked away with just bruises from a hard landing. And I crawled back into that jump plane and tumbled out again and again.

It’s been that way ever since: whatever disaster unfolds, I have no time for useless reactions, only disciplined responses, reasoning, and smart action.

And I’m just an average airline pilot, a carbon copy of most others. Which is why the average airline cockpit, come what may, will have none of the urban legend-drama, just calm, quiet, deliberate action.

That’s the way I like it in flight: quiet, disciplined, low bullshit and high performance. Leave the drama to others outside the cockpit, on the ground, in Hollywood or romance novels.

Fires, failures, windshear, weather — whatever, if you’re in the back of the jet, now you know up front the crew is taking a deep breath and saying, “Can you believe this sonofabitch is still flying?”

Try it yourself — it works. Dull as it sounds, it’s really the wisest choice.  ✈️ Chris Manno

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Your Flight is Running Late? Not So Fast.

Posted in air travel, air traveler, airline, airline cartoon book, airline delays, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot blog, airlines with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2015 by Chris Manno

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When I was a Check Airman for my airline, supervising new captains on their first flights in the left seat, I always did one thing consistently over a three day trip: about twenty miles from landing, I’d cover the fuel gages with my hand and ask, “How much fuel do you have?”

What does that have to do with your flight running late? Everything.

And here’s where the passenger in a time crunch and the pilot-in-command part ways: time, speed and fuel.

They’re interrelated and while we both share the goal of getting there, the pilots need to “get there” with as much fuel as possible. That’s because more fuel means more flying time available, which means more options. So by day three of my trip with a new captain, he always knew how much fuel–and thus flight time–he had available, because he (or she) knew I’d ask. After over 24 years as captain at the world’s largest airline, that’s a habit pattern I personally maintain to this day: fuel is time, and my job is to wring as much time as possible out of every drop of fuel on board.

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No, that doesn’t mean I want to fly as long as possible–I want to be able to fly as long as possible. Big difference, but the reality is, if I don’t have fuel in reserve, I don’t have time in reserve either, and both are crucial in case of delays due to weather, peak air traffic volume and even mechanical anomalies. And that’s just in the terminal area on arrival.

Enroute, there could be more weather we need to fly around safely (more miles–and fuel–burned) plus, the optimum altitude might not be available or, if it is, there may be a dissimilar aircraft ahead for whom we’ll be speed-restricted, causing us to burn more fuel. Throw in the frequent Air Traffic Control reroute or off-course spacing vector, and you have a significant potential for fuel over burn above the planned consumption.

On a flight of more than three hours, even a 10% fuel over burn can significantly limit a pilot’s options on arrival: can I hold for weather and traffic congestion, and for how long, before I have to divert?

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Add more air miles–and thus more fuel burn–to stay safely upwind of storms.

So we have the potential for weather and traffic delays, altitude restrictions and even mandatory re-routing by Air Traffic Control, all of which can and typically do eat away at our fuel reserves. These limiting factors can pop up at any time after takeoff and the fact is, there’s no more fuel to be had at that point, leaving you one option--save as much as possible enroute. Which means the highest, optimum altitude at the most economical speed.

Ironically, Air Traffic Control may even need you to fly a faster than optimum speed for a long stretch of time in order to equalize traffic flow, and you’d better have enough fuel to comply but still maintain your fuel reserves for arrival regardless.

Juxtapose that reality with the option of flying “faster to make up time.” First, a jet is not like your car–if you push the speed up ten percent, depending on your altitude, your fuel consumption may go up during the higher speed cruise by 20-30%. But how much time would you make up? Over a three hour flight, maybe ten minutes at most. Is that worth blowing all of your options, especially knowing that destination areas delays could wipe that out anyway? Is it prudent to fly hellbent-for-leather to shave off a fraction of the delay at the cost of having zero options once you get there?image

Fuel and time: the buck stops here.

The answer, of course, is no, it doesn’t make sense to “speed up to make up time.” Believe me, no one wants to finish the flight any sooner than the working crew, but never at the expense of what we know lies ahead, and therefore, what makes sense.

Certainly, you can ask the pilots to “fly fast,” but the result will be predictable no matter what you may hear.

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All the Wrong Answers to the GermanWings 9525 Questions

Posted in air travel, airline, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot, airline pilot blog, airliner, airlines, German wings 9525 with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2015 by Chris Manno

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All the Wrong Answers to the GermanWings 9525 Crash Questions

As is always the case after an airline disaster, the media and shortly thereafter, regulators rush to propose a quick but ill-advised “fix.”

In this case, the proposed quick fix falls into one of two useless but unavoidable categories: technology and regulation.

In the first case, technology, the spectrum of bad ideas runs from remote control to cockpit access override. That reminds me of earlier, fun days flying a supersonic jet that began to accumulate pilot fatalities in low speed, low altitude ejections. The engineering fix was to install a drogue chute that deployed upon ejection to hasten the main parachute deployment. That worked fine until the first high speed, high altitude ejection when the drogue chute deployed at Mach 1 and the G forces cut the pilot in half.

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Back to today, talk in this airline tragedy is of an even more bizarre solution: remote control “intervention:” taking over the aircraft flight controls from the ground. Beyond the fact that I as a thirty year airline pilot will not set foot in a cockpit that can be commandeered by remote control, consider the added layer of vulnerability: beyond two pilots who “could go rogue,” you’ve now introduced an entire spectrum of people, entities and hackers capable of taking over the jet. Better? Really?

Yes, some type of cockpit access intervention “might” have worked to restore this one pilot to his rightful place, while opening every cockpit henceforth to an outside “intervener” which defeats the necessary cockpit exclusion no one disputes is necessary: if one can, eventually all can. Better?

Then there’s the regulatory crowd, for whom the semi-annual FAA pilot physical, recurring spot checks, blood and urine alcohol and drug testing is not sufficient to validate a pilot’s fitness to fly. What’s next, a psych exam before brake release? A background check beyond the extensive background checks we all have already? A credit report before each instrument report?

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Here’s the real problem: there are no quick solutions. Yet that’s what the public “demands”–for now, but only for now. The fact is, in Texas alone there have been 257 traffic deaths so far this year, yet no one’s calling for a twenty mile an hour speed limit or any other radical but certain solution. Yet the “1 in 11,000,000 chance” (Harvard 2006) of dying in a plane crash brings a public outcry for an immediate technological or regulatory intervention.

I watched Air Force One arrive once, the president bounding down the stairs and greeting the crowd as law enforcement snipers on rooftops looked on. No “remote control triggers,” no on-scene sharpshooter credit checks. Rather, the thinnest final line ever drawn: trust.

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In the end, that’s what it comes down to anyway: trust in your flight crew. There’s no simple solution to the rare and tragic occurrence that just transpired over the French Alps. But there is real danger in half-baked solutions that just add more layers of vulnerability to what is already 11 million to 1 odds in an airline passenger’s favor.

Despite the media frenzy driving an out of scale public reaction, no “solution” is better than a hasty, ill-conceived technological or regulatory bandaid that increases the very danger that started the panic in the first place.

If you don’t trust me in the cockpit, fine: trust yourself on the road. Your odds there are astronomically worse, if that matters to you, but at least the flying public will remain safe.

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Air Travel Mythology: The “Aborted Landing”

Posted in air travel, airline cartoon, airline industry, airline passenger, airline pilot blog, airline safety, airliner, fear of flying, flight crew, jet flight with tags , , , , , , on February 17, 2015 by Chris Manno

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Air a Travel Mythology: The “Aborted Landing”

In social settings, I never bring up the fact that I’ve been an airline pilot at a major carrier since 1985. Because when I do, the mythology springs forth: tales of “harrowing” flights, near disasters, plus lost luggage (not my department anyway).

The flight myth most typical is, in passenger-speak, something like this: “We were about two feet off the ground when the pilot ‘gunned it’ and we shot straight up.” Gunned it?

Ah yes: the go-around, as we call it. We don’t call it “aborted landing” and in fact, until we get on the runway it’s not a landing anyway. Even after touchdown, the only option other than stopping is a “rejected landing,” which is a methodical procedure to get back into the air safely.

The main point is this: all of these options are planned for, procedurally set out and practiced, and in a nutshell–not a big deal.

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Here are the facts, step by step, of a missed approach.

First, the urban legend needs revision. From an airline pilot standpoint–and this is the airline philosophy, in writing–a missed approach is considered a successful approach. In other words, landing is not mandatory for a successful approach. In fact, unless all of the many restrictions upon which a landing is predicated are met, a missed approach is the desired outcome.

There are a number of reasons why a missed approach may be required and the most common reason is not the one most people think of: weather. Rather, is the more mundane issue of spacing.

More specifically, that “spacing” refers to the distance between aircraft landing and ironically, this is typically a good weather problem. In bad weather, aircraft are well-spaced by radar and further, speed is typically assigned by the air traffic controllers. On a clear day, aircraft are allowed to “see and avoid” and thus are not spaced as far apart, nor is the speed as rigidly assigned.

So, now and then one aircraft on final approach may not have enough space behind another aircraft just touching down, which could mean the first aircraft might not be off the runway before the following aircraft would touch down. That’s a no-fault situation: maybe the first aircraft needed to slow down earlier than normal, or, as at DFW today, due to construction some runway exits may be closed, requiring a longer landing rollout.

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Or, often enough, an aircraft is cleared for takeoff as you approach and they might take longer than expected to roll. That’s routine and actually, it’s their runway once they’re cleared for takeoff. So, we may need to go-around.

The pilots in the second aircraft can see the spacing problem develop and there may be a few things that can help: you could slow to your final approach speed–but I also consider the plane behind ours and how that affects his spacing on our aircraft.

My rule of thumb is usually this: if the aircraft ahead touches down or starts takeoff roll and we’re still at 500 feet or higher, it’ll probably work out. Less? We’ll likely go-around. When we do, the process will be routine and simply, methodically by the book: smoothly add power, arrest the descent, bring up the landing flaps and their drag, retract the gear and smoothly climb to the assigned missed approach altitude and following the prescribed course.

No big deal from the cockpit, but it takes you by surprise in the cabin where you can’t see the situation developing. When power is added and the nose pitches up, the sensation in back is much more dramatic, particularly behind the wings and especially near the tail (ask any flight attendant) where the swing is more pronounced.

Sometimes the power can be overly dramatic: we have a power setting designed for a go-around, but it’s predicated on a last second escape from the lowest descent altitude on the approach–50 feet above the runway, in the Boeing 737-800 I fly. But seldom is the missed approach executed at that rock-bottom minimum, so that much power isn’t really necessary.

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Trouble is, some of the older jets like the MD-80 have autothrottles that know only to set the maximum setting if the go-around power toggle is activated. That causes a dramatic pitch up that may feel, in the words of the immortal Dr. Dole at USC Flight Safety and Accident Investigation Center, that you’re “climbing like a stripedy-ass ape.” Startling to say the least and why many pilots of those older aircraft disengage the autothrottles and manually set power on a go-around from a higher altitude.

Newer jets like the Boeing I fly today have two go-around power settings available with the autothrottles engaged, one with the maximum power response, one with a reduced, more comfortable setting.

A go-around from an approach minimum altitude is the exact same procedure, only with the full power setting, which will make the maneuver more pronounced but nonetheless, routine. That’s necessary for safety: we want maximum terrain clearance with no delay, so the exact same procedure is followed, just more aggressively due to the full computed thrust used.

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When I see the need for a go-around developing, the first thing I do is talk to the other pilot, getting us both ready to execute the litany of steps if need be. If we’re down to the approach minimums, there’s really nothing to discuss: we execute the standard go-around maneuver.

Traffic problems and spacing are the usual reasons for a go-around, but there may be the occasional go-around due to weather minimums. There’s no “gunning it” or fire-walling the throttles like in the Hollywood depictions, just a methodical and prompt setting of the required engine thrust and an arrested descent, then climb.

In either case, don’t expect to hear much from me on the PA, because in a go-around both pilots need to focus on flying: the altitude, the procedural track, the aircraft configuration and speed. If we’re going around due to weather minimums, we’ll also likely be setting up the navigation and securing the clearances to divert; if not, we need to get re-sequenced back into the landing pattern. None of that on a two man crew works well solo, which is what a PA would require.

So I’ll get to it when and if I can. If not, explain all this to the guy next to you, and relax. Because now you know a go-around is just routine.

More questions about air travel and your flight? Here are the answers:

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