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Landing Accident Analysis: How to Prevent the Next One

Silas is an aviation safety professional and a flight instructor for airplane and helicopter. Dedicated to reduce the accident rate.

Statement of the Problem

Landing accidents have been a topic of concern since the Wright brothers' first flight, and the significance includes landing without crashing (Ross, 2018). A century later, the landing accident emphasis still exists and prevails, causing pilots the most significant challenge (Olson, 2002).

This article will provide information in detail about landing accidents caused by improper pitch attitude and airspeed control. A solution requires the pilot to execute the go-around maneuver whenever one or both landing parameters are out of limits.

According to Vetergren (2016), a successful landing requires the correct pitch attitude and proper airspeed control while operating the aircraft close to the ground. Maneuvering the aircraft's feet above the ground is crucial and involves a deliberate effort to control the landing pitch attitude and the airspeed within the specified parameters (Vestergren, 2016).

The landing maneuver is one of the toughest to accomplish and often delays a student pilot from soloing. Also, pilot currency requirements listed in the FAR/AIM require three takeoffs and landings every 90 days to carry passengers on the airplane. A student solo flight and carrying passengers present a high-risk level when operating outside one of the landing parameters.

Gillen (2016) mentions that the landing accident represents the largest category according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Light-Sport Aircraft accidents have exceeded the GA accident rate and represent a safety concern (Bertorelli, 2018). The increased accident rate is the focus of this article. The outcome will identify whether the landing pitch attitude or the airspeed variable presents a greater possibility for an accident.

Comparing the landing variables reveals the component that has a probability of increasing the accident rate. The NTSB database included accident reports listing the landing pitch attitude and the airspeed variable as the probable cause for the event. According to Benbassat (2000), landing an aircraft requires precise judgment and practice to master the skill. Knowing the aircraft landing pitch attitude and attaining the proper airspeed represents a crucial pilot aptitude (Benbassat, 2000). For example, the pilot must remain within the airspeed range and the pitch attitude parameter to prevent the likelihood of an accident (Kasdaglis, 2016).

Changing the airspeed and pitch attitude during the landing represents a challenge. Therefore, preventive measures are necessary to avoid a low or high airspeed that may cause an eventful outcome (Federal Aviation Administration [FAA], 2016). The FAA Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge provides information about airspeed and pitch attitude. Figure 1 highlights the flight's particular landing phase and illustrates the landing pitch attitude and the airspeed variable.

Airspeed and Pitch Attitude

Airspeed and Pitch Attitude

Airspeed Control

According to Ross (2018), establishing and maintaining a constant airspeed remains the crucial step during the landing. Airspeed must exist within the specified limits of 60 knots defined by the manufacturer. The FAA recommends a landing airspeed range from five knots below to 10 knots above the specified airspeed. For example, the manufacturer specifies the landing airspeed of 60 knots, and the FAA recommends the landing airspeed range from 55 to 70 knots (FAA, 2016). Figure 2 shows the airspeed range the pilot should maintain to land a GA aircraft (Ross, 2018).

Airspeed Control

Airspeed Control

Pitch Attitude

Another successful landing characteristic is the pilot’s ability to maintain the proper pitch attitude throughout the landing (Benbassat, 2000). Pitch attitude requires the pilot to increase the aircraft pitch angle until reaching the desired landing attitude (Benbassat, 2000). A landing error happens because of the misjudgment or misinterpretation of the pitch attitude parameter. Olson (2002) lists the highest percentage of landing errors result of misjudging the landing pitch attitude.

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To prevent misjudgment of the landing pitch angle, the use of visual cues are necessary. Improper pitch attitude stems from increasing the aircraft’s nose to a high pitch angle, which results in the aircraft bouncing or ballooning above the runway (FAA, 2016). Establishing a high pitch attitude angle may lead to a hard landing (Benbassat & Abramson, 2002). A low pitch attitude angle may cause the nose landing gear to contact the runway before the main landing gear, causing a porpoise effect (FAA, 2016).

Determining the proper landing pitch attitude provides little room for error (Benbassat, 2000). The landing phase of flight has the highest accident rate resulting from pilot error (Houston, Walton, & Conway, 2012). Reducing landing accidents requires an awareness of the pitch attitude limits (Wang & Wu, 2018). Allowing a high, low, or shallow landing pitch attitude angle may cause the aircraft to bounce off the runway resulting in a hard landing (Benbassat & Abramson, 2002). The landing pitch attitude requires knowledge of the limits to prevent a low or high pitch condition. Benbassat (2000) revealed that determining the proper pitch attitude angle defines the maneuver as the most difficult.

Go-Around to Reduce Accidents

Landing is a challenge while the pilot tries to remain within the parameters. Pilots unable to remain within the landing airspeed and pitch attitude range must abort the landing and perform the go-around maneuver (Ross, 2018). The go-around maneuver requires the pilot to abandon the landing, add power, and climb the aircraft to gain altitude (FAA, 2016). A prevention method to reduce the landing accident rate suggests the go-around maneuver as the best option. Planning the go-around early enough should reduce the risk of an accident before exceeding a landing variable.

Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge

2020 Far/Aim


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Benbassat, D. & Abramson, C. (2002). General aviation landing flare instructions. Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research, 11(2).

Bertorelli, P. (2018, August). LSA accident review: Nothing to celebrate. Aviation Safety Consumer.

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Federal Aviation Administration. (2016). Airplane flying handbook (FAA-H-8083-3B).

Gillen, M. (2016). A study evaluating if targeted training for startle effect can improve pilot reactions in handling unexpected situations in a flight simulator (Doctoral dissertation).

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Wang, L., Ren, Y., & Wu, C. (2018). Effects of flare operation on landing safety: A study based on anova of real flight data. Safety Science Journal, 102, 14-25. doi: 10.1016/j.ssci.2017.09.027

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