Go-Arounds: Why Airplanes Circle Over Runways

When an airplane approaches an airport, passengers typically expect it to land. There are instances, however, in which airplanes may circle over the runway before landing. Known as a go-around, it’s a common procedure in commercial aviation.

What Is a Go-Around?

A go-around is a flight procedure in which an airplane circles over the runway before landing. It’s essentially an aborted landing attempt.

If a pilot is approaching an airport but decides not to land, he or she may circle over the runway. This is a go-around. Depending on what caused the go-around, the pilot may continue to circle over the runway while waiting for clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC). Once ATC gives the green light for landing, the pilot will then descend and land the airplane.

A typical go-around consists of several steps:

  • Increase thrust and ascend to a higher altitude.
  • Retract the landing gear (if applicable).
  • Adjust the airplane’s flaps.
  • Circle over the runway
  • Wait for clearance of further instructions from ATC.

Common Causes of Go-Arounds

What causes go-arounds exactly? Runway obstructions may prompt pilots to abort landings. If there are other airplanes on the runway, pilots may have to wait for clearance from the ATC before landing.

Runway obstructions can also consist of wildlife. There are over 19,000 airports in the United States, some of which are located in rural areas where wildlife is plentiful. If wild deer, pigs or other wildlife is spotted on the runway, pilots may have to perform one or more go-arounds before landing.

An airplane’s approach may determine whether a go-around is required. The approach, of course, is the phase of flight that occurs prior to landing. It typically begins when an airplane descends below 5,000 feet in preparation for landing. If the approach sinks too fast, though, the pilot may overshoot the runway. Therefore, the pilot may simply abort the landing and perform a go-around instead.

Another common cause of go-arounds is severe weather conditions. Strong crosswinds can prove hazardous. Crosswinds involve gusts of wind blowing perpendicular to the direction in which an airplane is traveling. If an airport is experiencing strong crosswinds, ATC may instruct nearby pilots to perform a go-around for safety purposes.

In Conclusion

Go-arounds are common in the world of aviation. They involve aborted landings in which a pilot chooses to circle over a runway rather than land. Some of the most common causes of go-arounds include runway obstructions, bad approaches and severe weather conditions.

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