Airplane pilot explains what happens during hard landings

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Maybe you’d ever be on a plane, heading for your destination, and, why not, heavenly, when you had a landing that made you cross yourself several times (although you are not a religious person) and you regretted not having made a will. The experience may even have been even worse (and more unlikely) and you have ever seen a crash landing with your own eyes.

The truth is that air planes are the safest means of transportation. Of the 36.8 million commercial flights that, to estimate, were made in 2017, only 10 ended in a fatal accident, according to figures provided by the ‘Aviation Safety Network‘ portal. However, we are still terrified of them, and although we have flown countless times and witnessed landings that have gone smoothly, we will never forget the one that was not so much.

Very rarely (but very often) landing is so bad when the plane is damaged. But why are some who seem, at first glance, quite simple, then so hasty and ‘hard’? Journalist Mike Arnot wonders the same thing and tries to answer the question by asking Captain Doug Morris, an Air Canada pilot with many years of flying behind him.

“The landing poorly referred to as a forced, also known as hard landing, is often not such,” he explains. “It’s a term used colloquially by passengers who perceive it that way, but it also has a technical meaning used by aircraft manufacturers. The descent speed is less than one meter per second; when the pilot lands at two or three meters per second it feels more abrupt than normal, and the pilot reports it as ‘forced landing’ even though it has actually been within the prescribed limits,” he says.

The weather and the track

But why do pilots land like that? “The training manual for many aircraft, such as the Boeing 737, sets out how it should be landed, as it is important to be in place and at the correct speed. Don’t let the plane float, it flies straight onto the runway, as it’s a coveted space,” he says. “The main concern of the passengers is whether the plane will have any problems, but this is something quite rare. When it comes to the truth, the reason the landing seems abrupt has more to do with weather conditions,” explains the pilot.

On many occasions, passengers perceive that the landing has been very abrupt, but it is not true, sometimes it is necessary for a safety issue.

When landing, it is essential to properly settle the wheels on the ground in situations of possible ‘aquaplaning’, wet runways, etc. “The rain, the snow, these cases require the pilot to get the plane down firmly,” Morris explains. “A firm landing allows the wheels to turn and the brakes to apply, which helps a lot,” he says. He also adds that on other occasions it is the runways themselves that make it quite difficult for the landing to be smooth.

“Some have a lot of oscillations, they are like ski slopes,” he says, “especially those with an upward slope are the most complicated. The 24R at Manchester airport has a large protrusion in the middle, it is very complicated,” says the maps. The pilots use sometimes indicate the profile of the track to help them understand where it goes up or down. Some are unusually wide, like the one at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez airport. “Be firm or softer, safety comes first, and if the landing has to be harder for that, welcome be it,” he concludes.