On a recent flight from Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro, my plane did a “Go-Around”.  This term refers to an aborted landing, resulting in a 2nd (or 3rd, 4th…) attempt at landing.

This was a first for me.  I fly enough to have heard the term before, but I hadn’t experienced it.  I’m a Lufthansa Senator (gold level frequent flyer) and I’m quite interested in planes, ATC (air traffic control) and the terms and technology associated with the industry.  I’m that nerd that likes to sit near the back of the wing and watch the flaps raise after takeoff and lower before landing.  I know why and when they’re used.  I can tell you if the ‘thump’ you heard is a normal noise on that particular type of aircraft.  I play air traffic control simulations on my laptop for “fun”.  Yes, I’m THAT guy.

When on this flight, we were at less than 500ft above the ground on our ‘final approach’ and I heard the engines spooling up to full power, felt the nose of the aircraft point back up and heard the ‘thud’ of the landing gear come back up, I knew exactly what was happening.  When people around me started having panicked looks on their face, I was able to reassure them, by explaining what was going on.  What I still don’t know, is why.

Our pilot, being the extremely well trained Lufthansa captain that he is, did not explain what was going on at the time.  His attention was needed to perform all the items on their checklist.  The cockpit crew have a checklist for absolutely everything (you really don’t want to miss a step when there are 350 “souls” onboard, do you?)  Several minutes later, once we were again at a safe altitude above the nearby mountains, the pilot made an announcement explaining that another plane was on the runway, thus necessitating our aborted landing.

The question remains:  Why was another plane on OUR runway?  Surely at this late stage, the pilot would have been given clearance to land.  That is, the ATC had given all the clearances and instructions up to and including the plane’s landing.

[UPDATE:  Check out this video.  Our plane wasn’t this low, but it’s the same basic idea.  CNN:  Aborted landing ]

Was the plane on the runway too slow?  Was it given clearance to takeoff, but was unable to do so?  Or was it “pilot error?”  Did they not realize that had been cleared, but did not receive or understand the instruction?  Was our plane trying to land on a different runway than was instructed?  I doubt it.  But in the end, I’ll probably never know.

Whatever occurred, I’m glad that our flight crew had the skills to make the situation nothing more than a slight flight delay.  Bravo Lufthansa!

 

For further reading, take a look at this CNN article:  ”

“Language of air travel: How traffic control keeps you safe”

 

 

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