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How Much Does Crew Know About The Landing?  
User currently offlineD5DBY From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 6 days 5 hours ago) and read 5973 times:

say for example a AC is scheduled to fly from 1 airport to another...after take-off the AC operates after the flight plan(flying on the airways that have been selected for the flight and so on)

what im curious about is the last part off a regular flight...the part where the AC is getting close to its destination airport and should perform a landing.

im aware that there are approach charts, holding patterns and other things that is designed to help ACs to land....and im not asking how those are designed and how you use them...

the thing im curious about his this: when the AC perform a take-off(regular PAX flight)..how much do the pilots know about the landing at the destination airport?im not talking weather or so... ....how much do the know how they are going to perform the landing?

is it like.....oki lets fly towards that VOR...and when we get close to the airport..we call ATC and he will tell us how we land...

or does the flight crew know exactly what to do when they get close to the airport? for example...lets fly that airway to the airport and then select that holding pattern and that exact altitude..and just call ATC for a clearance to land..

how much do the flight crew know about what is going to happen when they get close to the airport? do they need much info from ATC, to guide them down, or just some sort of clearance?

6 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently onlineHAL From United States of America, joined Jan 2002, 2636 posts, RR: 52
Reply 1, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 6 days 3 hours ago) and read 5940 times:

First - regarding which runway we will use: On most flights, we do not know for sure which runway we will be using for landing. However if we have been to an airport before, we usually know which runway is preferred. For example at Los Angeles, we almost always land to the west because of the prevailing winds off the ocean. The exceptions are when the Santa Ana winds blow out of the east, and late at night if the wind is calm we land to the east (less noise over the city). Our flight plans do include a predicted runway which we put into the Flight Management System computer. As we approach the airport we listen to the recorded airport information on the radio which tells us the runway in use. If it is different from the plan, we change the info in the computer. Our flight plans often include some sort of arrival procedure (called STAR's - Standard Terminal ARival procedure). They describe what we will do - i.e. fly to VOR A, cross at 10,000, fly to intersection B, cross at 7000 etc. This is all a seamless part of our flight plan, we know it ahead of time, and those arrival procedures often link directly to the approach procedure (ILS etc) so that ATC doesn't even have to tell us what to do.

Now the other part - how we do the approach. Since we (air carrier airlines) are always under control of ATC, they tell us how they want us to approach the airport. If the weather is bad they will tell us the runway in use, and which type of approach is being conducted (almost always an ILS approach). Then they either allow us to follow the STAR, or (if there isn't one) they vector us around to bring us onto the published approach path. From there we are cleared for the approach and conduct it as specified on the approach plate. If the weather is better, they may bring us near the airport, then clear us for a visual approach. If so, we may still use an ILS system for backup guidance, or if one isn't available, just do it visually using the VASI lights on the side of the runway. The decisions on what to do are not made initially by us. ATC tells us where to go, and what to do, although we do retain a veto power if we can't do something they ask.

So you see there is not that much discretion on the part of the pilots. We are told where to go, and what type of approach to make by air traffic controllers.


One smooth landing is skill. Two in a row is luck. Three in a row and someone is lying.
User currently offlineIAHFLYR From United States of America, joined Jun 2005, 4790 posts, RR: 21
Reply 2, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 5897 times:

HAL great posting.....you are on top of your game!!  Smile

Any views shared are strictly my own and do not a represent those of any former employer.
User currently offlineSlamClick From United States of America, joined Nov 2003, 10062 posts, RR: 66
Reply 3, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 6 days ago) and read 5862 times:

You need to understand, though, that the airplane does not really "fly itself" to the destination.

Sophisticated autoflight systems have two basic modes of navigation: Lateral and Vertical. Lateral nav is the fly to this VOR then track out ___ radial to ____ intersection and so on. It will do this without pilot intervention so long as there are no discontinuities in the programmed flight plan.

Vertical navigation, on the other hand - it will only provide guidance. For example if it calculates that you need to start a descent now or overshoot some arrival fix it will only tell the pilots so. They must get ATC clearance down to some lower altitude, set and arm that altitude and enable the system to start the descent.

When I flew less automated jets I had to figure this stuff out in my head, so I was involved. It was really simple. The first guidlines I was given for a jet was "three to one" That is, multiply your altitude in thousands of feet times three and that is how far out you need to start your descent. So from 35000' you start down 105 nautical miles out. Later on I saw that three to one was too much so (not real precise here) somewhere closer than the three to one point was where you started down.

The second big simple gouge in descent planning was "thirty nautical miles out = ten thousand feet and 250 knots." If you will hit that window, 30 out at ten and two-fifty you can get any jet on the ILS and on the ground. I used that to the end of my flying days. I taught it to my dispatcher students.

Now along comes highly automated airplanes and it will do a lot of thinking for you but you still have to operate the airplane. No autopilot extends flaps or gear, arms spoilers, runs checklists. But they do a lot of the simple stuff for you - like keep the blue side up. Our task is to remain involved in the flight and pay enough attention so as to be able to start the approach and land when we get there.

Many of us will knock off the autopilot at some point and hand-fly the last thirty miles or fifty miles or ten miles ourselves. One has to maintain some flying skills.

Happiness is not seeing another trite Ste. Maarten photo all week long.
User currently offlineLogan22L From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 5 days 22 hours ago) and read 5782 times:

Great post, Slam. You may be a crusty old bugger  Wink , but your knowledge and experience, coupled with your willingness to share it, is tops.

Thanks also, HAL. Good stuff.

User currently offlineD5DBY From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 5 days 22 hours ago) and read 5761 times:

yeah, as already said....good post, very interesting

User currently onlineHAL From United States of America, joined Jan 2002, 2636 posts, RR: 52
Reply 6, posted (10 years 6 months 3 weeks 4 days 21 hours ago) and read 5457 times:

SlamClick is absolutely right about planes not flying themselves. The first airliner I was checked out in was a fairly ancient DC-10. We had a basic computerized FMS - meaning that it would point us in the right direction. But the decisions on when to start down, how fast to do it etc. were all made in our heads. In the years since I've flown the 767, and now the Airbus A320/319. Each one has been a big step up in automation, but that automation comes with a price. We now have many more ways to screw things up, and we have to be more aware than ever of what the plane is doing and where it is going. Like SlamClick said, the automation allows us to concentrate more on the big picture, but we can't let it lull us into complacency. I flew for Hawaiian for four years before being furloughed. After that job (and before going to America West) I flew 8-passenger Piper Navajos around northern Alaska for a small regional airline based in Fairbanks. That job reminded me what it really means to be a pilot - it was basic flying at its best. Now I'm back with a sophisticated automated airplane in the Airbus. But just because the computers are there doesn't mean I can ignore basic piloting techniques. Like SlamClick also said, I'll occasionally click off the autopilot & autothrottles on approach to make sure I keep that hard won proficiency as sharp as possible. That is what makes flying enjoyable and safe.


One smooth landing is skill. Two in a row is luck. Three in a row and someone is lying.
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