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Home > Flying the Plane > At what point does a landing become "sloppy"?
At what point does a landing become "sloppy"?
Flying - Flying the Plane
Thursday, 20 October 2005 02:52

Hi Captain Lim,

My question is about landings. I know you don't like to comment on individual flights since you are only hearing one side of the story but my personal experience has a broader scope.

I was flying into McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas - a trip I have taken many times before from St. Louis Mo. In the 20 years that I have made this trip, we have almost landed exclusively on runway 25, that is an East to West runway; that means, there is little to no turning at the end of the flight to get lined up. On this particular trip, I was flying on a fairly new airline with a relatively young pilot. I don*t know that this is of particular importance but I mention it anyway.

During the descent (it was a fairly calm day with some turbulence) we took a turn to the South and make a U-shape pattern to the runway. I suspect this was a way of metering traffic but I'm not sure.

At any rate, during the last 3-5 minutes of the flight, the pilot was making some rather abrupt maneuvers with the airplane to get it lined up with the runway. It was mostly the nose down position that had us all looking at each other, wondering what was going on. I don*t think any of us felt we were in any real danger, but it was unusual enough that even the most seasoned fliers were commenting on this being one of the strangest landings they've experienced. We landed further down the runway than I can ever remember with a noticeable "thump".

My questions are these: At what point does a landing become "sloppy"? Also, can and do pilots deviate from the ILS in order to get a plane lined up with the runway for landing? The plane was a MD-80 that is probably a bit more maneuverable than a Boeing 777. Does this play a role?

Thanks for your site and your time,

Kurt.

Hi Kurt,

I am not sure what you meant by being "sloppy" about the landing. If it were a "thump", it could be due to many reasons - for example - it was a decently executed crosswind landing, an offset due to some low level gust of wind or a slight misjudgment on the part of the pilot during the flare. Yes, I usually do not like to comment specifically on a flight that I do not have first hand knowledge of it.

Sometimes, a firm landing is not necessarily a bad one. On some planes, pilots are often advised to do a firm and positive touchdown rather than trying to "grease" the landing. You see, a soft landing may fool a plane to believe that it has not landed and hence the brake anti-skid may not activate in time or the lift-killing devices (spoilers) may not deploy immediately. You do not want this to happen on a wet or short runway. I am not sure if this is applicable on the MD-80 as I have not flown this plane.

So, the smoothness of a landing is not a good yardstick to measure a pilot*s skill or competence. Further, it is difficult to appraise pilot through any unusual turns he may have undertaken or any thumps that you may have felt. The severity of his maneuver, whether perceived or actual, may be dictated by the air traffic controller that you may not be aware of. But I would like to believe that every pilot would endeavor his best to ensure the most comfortable flight he undertakes each day. This is not to dispute your power of observation; sometimes a passenger*s perception of a flight may be influenced by his slight nervousness or due to his lack of understanding of what is going on. For example, you asked whether the pilot could deviate from the ILS (Instrument Landing System) to get lined up with the runway. In reality, the ILS is the facility used by the pilot to line up with the runway. So he would never deviate from the ILS if he were going to do a safe landing. Maybe you were thinking that an ILS could only be performed from a long straight-in approach. Yes, the final part of an ILS can be intercepted from an U-turn.

I believe a MD-80 may be more maneuverable than a Boeing 777 due to its size - almost similar to a comparison between a mini-car and the saloon you drive!

Wish you a safe and pleasant flight the next time you fly! :-)

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