Real Answers from Real Pilots

Most Dangerous Departures/Approaches

Mentors,

What are the most dicey departures and approaches you all have experienced? The ones that make you hold on tight and/or grit your teeth and maybe even say a prayer to thank God for seeing you throughout it safely?

Mardee,

Honestly, none of them. We don’t fly dicey approaches or departures. We have very strict safety standards and do not operate outside of them. If something is unsafe, we don’t do it, simple as that. No disrespect to the creator, but we don’t rely on Divine Providence to fly hundreds of people around.

Chris

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I understand all of that and the safety protocols that are in place mitigate any foreseen risks and training and experience guide your thought processes should unforeseen risks arise.
Having said all of that, from what I’ve observed as a passenger (granted that view is much different from what’s seen on the flight deck) and seen on the travel channel, there are some airports that have very different protocol for departures and approaches due to terrain or other factors. I’m wondering about airports like Boulder, CO (or some other seasonal airport in CO). The pilots have to climb at a much higher rate due to nearby mountains. Or some place in Central America where there are specific landmarks (swimming pool, unique buildings, etc.) that are used to get the correct approach line…

Mardee,

The FAA approves all approach and departure procedures, even ones outside of the US. I have been into airports like Eagle, CO, Jackson Hole, WY and Mexico City, to name a few. While these approaches require a bit more work on our end, none of them are terribly difficult.

I have never once flown into an airport that uses something like a swimming pool to line up with the runway. There are some visual approach procedures into places like EWR and LGA, but again, they are what we are trained for and are well within our abilities.

Be very careful with the aviation shows that you watch on TV, most of them are riddled with errors.

Chris

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Yeaaaa , not sure what show you’re watching but trust me, you won’t be landing an A330 with 300 pax onboard by lining up with a swimming pool. As Chris said the FAA (and ICAO internationally) set protocols, guidelines and standards for everything we do. If a location is “dicey”, a Major airline wouldn’t be flying there. I’m not trying to blow-off your question but EVERYTHING we do at this level is about managing risk and if that risk cannot be brought down to the level where every pilot in the airline can safely and confidently perform the procedure, the procedure is scrapped.

The fact is the biggest threat to most approaches and landings comes in the form of weather. Weather is a dynamic force. You can do all the planning in the World but you must be aware that the weather can deteriorate in flash. The safest airport could become the most dangerous, just add one good storm. The key is training, preparation and the willingness to call the approach off BEFORE things get dicey. After may be too late.

Adam

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