Hurrah for Firm Landings
Dave Jesse on December 12, 2012

I have the pleasure of working each day with Capt. Derek Murphy, who is an experienced 146/RJ captain and safety manager. Derek has a splendid way of observing life. For example, we were discussing the causes of runway excursions. He came out with a fundamental analysis of the situation, which I paraphrase:

“Takeoff is easy – little runway to big sky. Landing is hard – big sky to little runway.”

Apparently, even though landing is hard, it is becoming more common for pilots to find it impossible to stop on the runway.

Recently, I listened to a fascinating paper presented by experts at the IASS conference. They analysed the root causes of runway excursions from a collection of incidents and accidents they had investigated.

A high proportion of these accidents were related to landing too far down the runway – and indeed (if I remember correctly), all of the fatal accidents came in this category.

So, why do pilots land too far down the runway? This is often caused by trying to make a gentle touchdown. The pilot will let the aircraft float softly onto the ground rather than land with a bump. A tendency that is particularly prevalent with corporate or private jet operators, where shaking the passengers is simply not acceptable.

All the time that an aircraft does not have its tyres on the ground, it cannot be braking and the runway ahead is reducing by about 200ft every second.

I have heard passengers clapping after a gentle landing, but think about this from a safety standpoint. The passengers were in effect applauding that they were more likely to be injured.

Derek tells me no-one ever applauded one of his landings, but then he never had a runway excursion.