ma-011 Balked Landings at Mountain Airports (1)

Balked Landings at Mountain Airports


When you fly private, you get access to some of the world’s most exclusive destinations. Small private jets can navigate and land amongst mountainous terrain or even skyscrapers, allowing you to step off the jet and be minutes away from your final destination.

Sometimes, accessing certain areas like small mountain airports necessitates a balked landing. Below is everything you need to know about what a balked landing is, why it occurs, and what to expect if your pilot chooses to perform a balked landing.

What Is a Balked Landing?

A balked landing, also known as a go-around, is an aborted landing of an aircraft that is on final approach for landing. In most cases, this procedure is easily performed by the flight crew.

What Happens During a Balked Landing

For one reason or another, the flight crew is either forced to perform a balked landing, or they decide that discontinuing the approach to the runway in use is the safest option. The captain will add power and ask the co-pilot to raise the flaps one notch and retract the landing gear.

The captain will then climb up to a safe altitude and level off the airplane. The flight crew will assess the situation and decide whether they want to attempt a second approach to the same runway, utilize a different runway, or proceed somewhere else.

At most airports in the US, this is a routine procedure performed safely by the flight crew — day or night.

Where Balked Landings Occur

When it comes to some of our mountain airports here in Colorado, like those in Aspen and Eagle where high-elevation airports are surrounded by towering peaks in all quadrants, a balked landing is anything but a routine procedure.

When flying into places with this type of terrain, it takes very careful planning and a thorough performance review to ensure that the aircraft is capable of either landing safely on the runway, or executing a balked landing while staying clear of terrain.

How Pilots Navigate Balked Landings

We have routinely operated into these two mountain airports for many years during daylight hours in several different airplanes, without a single incident. It’s a much more difficult challenge to fly into one of these airports in the middle of a dark moonless night, where all you can see are the bright runway lights.

What if something happened just as the airplane were ready to touch down, and the crew had to discontinue the approach? Unless specific procedures are created to ensure this can be done safely, a night landing into mountain airports can be a very difficult challenge.

Balked Landing Procedures

The special balked landing procedure is unique to each airplane and is based on the performance capability of the particular aircraft.

When we follow the procedure, it allows the flight crew to safely and consistently execute a balked landing at the airport for which the procedure is designed, during day or night, and only when having the runway environment in sight.

To further improve the safety margin, we requested that the balked landing climb performance be based on only one engine operating in flight. In other words, these two airplanes can still climb and maneuver with one engine failed, while still clearing the terrain surrounding the airport.

It is highly unlikely that any Mountain Aviation aircraft would find itself in such a scenario. However, during our annual recurrent simulator training, our pilots are specifically trained on these unique and challenging procedures, ensuring that every flight is carried out with safety and expertise.

More reading: A pilot’s perspective on flying over the Andes Mountains near Santiago, Chile >

Mountain Aviation

Leave a Reply