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How to Safely Land an Airplane: Common Pilot Errors and Solutions

Silas is a flight instructor and safety inspector who obtained his master of science in aeronautics, MSA, safety and education technology.

Landing Errors and Solutions

Landing Errors and Solutions

Safely landing an airplane requires an understanding of human error. In this case, pilot error is the language used to announce the occurrence of a landing accident.

Human error is the most significant cause of airplane accidents. The pilot's interaction with the machine requires attention to integrate the human with the machine. In 1903, 80% of the accidents resulted from the machine and 20% were pilot error. Today, a shift has occurred suggesting that 80% of the accidents are related to pilot error and 20% are related to the machine failure (Boeing, 2008). This suggests that the machine is less likely to cause an accident, while human error presents a majority of the problem.

This article focuses on how to safely land an airplane, while highlighting human errors and providing solutions. The error section provides information about the problems that result in airplane accidents. To help the pilots, the solution section provides details about problems, outcomes, worst case scenarios, and what to do when things go wrong.

Accident Cause in 1903 and Today

Accident Cause in 1903 and Today

Common Errors

Landing a plane is one of the most challenging maneuvers for a pilot to master. A few of the errors exist between the start of the flare and touchdown point. Some of the most common errors involve flaring too high or too late and allowing the plane to bounce or balloon (Kershner, 1981).

Student pilots tend to round out high during the landing, because they focus on references that are too close or are looking directly down toward the ground (Gleim, 1998). Instead, the pilot may concentrate on the references that are too close, leading to blurred or faulty depth perception. Next, a high flare may result in a stall that leads to a loss of control and hard landing (FAA, 1999). Loss of control usually results in an accident.

ProblemCauseResult

Flare Late

Bounce or Ballon off the Runway

Stall, Loss of Control

Focus Too Close or Looking Directly Down at the Runway

Round out or Flare High

Stall, Loss of Control

Flare High

Stall

Loss of Control

High Flare

High Flare

Attempting to correct for a late flare by applying excessive back-elevator pressure may impose heavy load factors on the wing and cause install and lead to a loss of control. Also, a stall may cause the airplane to land extremely hard on the main landing gear and then bounce back into the air (FAA, 1999).

Landing Error Sight Picture

Landing Error Sight Picture

The round out and flare are dependent on precise timing and landing attitude while just above the ground. When the pilot flares too early, the aircraft ends up ballooning or hanging in the air; and when they flare too late it can fly into the ground (Penglis, 1994). Time and accuracy are essential to provide an uneventful landing.

Shape of the Runway

Shape of the Runway

Vision Is a Critical Tool

Landing training and the inclusion of each phase of flight is purposeful to develop a prevention strategy. Most pilots cannot explain what visual cues they use during the flare. It becomes a challenge, as the flight instructor is expected to communicate what they visualize themselves into an audible communication effort to the student. The most critical tool pilots have during the flare is vision.

Flight Instruction Is Sometimes Inconsistent

Flare training methods do not address the problem of experience and proper instruction. There is no agreement on an effective way to use vision during the flare, and flight instruction is inconsistent among the industry (Benbassat, 2000).

To define the inconsistency, the University of Oklahoma pilots use the horizon or end of the runway, whereas Oklahoma State University pilots use the shape of the runway or runway markings as visual aids to perform the flare (Benbassat, 2000). The reason student pilots do not know where the ground begins is due to the method used to teach students (Penglis, 1994).

Solutions

Landing solutions exist to prevent an accident. Understanding common errors associated with landing an airplane are areas that require the development of a mitigation strategy. The emphasis associated with landing events is that they relate to 50 percent of the mishaps. Reviewing the errors that result from landing accidents present a need to focus on solutions to this type of hazard. Landing represents one of the most challenging and difficult maneuvers for a pilot. The maneuver requires skill and continual training with a flight school will sure the pilot skill is current and proficient.

Listing the errors can present an insight into what areas need solutions. The errors form when flaring too late, flaring too early, and focusing too close to the runway during the approach. Each of these problems require training to stay proficient with landing the airplane. The flare problem requires the proper sight picture to ensure the aircraft is at the correct height and speed while crossing the runway threshold. Next, focusing too close to the runway requires training to ensure the pilot has identified the proper references. References include the end of the runway and horizon or the shape of the runway while flying the approach.

Each of the training events require practicing for the proper sight picture and references to pull off a smooth landing. However, while training, when the pilot cannot gain the proper sight picture or reference, they must perform the go-around maneuver. Going around is the best choice instead of trying to salvage a bad landing with inappropriate references and sight picture. Visual acuity is necessary to decide the proper sight picture during the approach to land the airplane. While training and practice enhance landing skill, the pilot must keep the go-around option as the worst case plan.

ProblemSolutionOutcomeWorse Case

Flare Late

Landing Training

Proper Sight Picture

Go-Around

Focus Too Close

Landing Training

Proper Sight Picture, Reference

Go-Around

Flare High

Landing Training

Proper Sight Picture, Reference

Go-Around

Final Note

Airplanes have become more reliable, and the human has played a more important role in aviation accidents. Landings are mandatory and require skill to maneuver the airplane into a position to execute the maneuver. Understanding common landing errors and solutions will help to mitigate the landing problem.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.