Mission Aviation Fellowship

From the Flightdeck – James McBride

Carrier Landings – part I

I was born too late. In fact, they said that about my father as well, so perhaps it runs in the family. For different reasons. In his case he had all the manners and gentility of an Edwardian Gentleman* – he even wore a cravat. Imagine that, a Cravat?! I mean back in the 1960s that was really something… I don’t know anyone else who wore a cravat in the 60s… well, apart from Mick Jagger, but I would never have seen my old man in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame! Or Madame Tussauds. But I digress. You see, now there was a man, born out of his time… Louis McBride, not Mick.

In a similar way, when I joined the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm back in the early ‘80s to fly fixed-wing and train as a ‘Stovie’, the proper aircraft carriers had gone. The RN was down to just three light aircraft carriers, the glory days of the large Audacious Class ships were finished. All those Phantoms and Buccaneers; scrapped and no angled deck operations anymore. But, years later I found myself in flying operations with some similarities. The challenge of landing (and taking-off) from quite short runways is something a little bit special in the airlines.

I can think of eight airports off the top of my head which pose their own challenges to jet airliner operations

I can think of eight airports off the top of my head which pose their own challenges to jet airliner operations, mainly due to performance considerations. In no particular order they are Corfu, Palermo, Calvi, Funchal, Punta Delgada, Kos, Skiathos and Mykonos. No doubt there are other destinations which could easily be added to the naughty corner, but I think you would find these are the main bad boys. If you ask any European airline pilot, they will have their own personal story about how things went wrong on one of their visits to at least one of the above airports. Bear in mind that these locations are all considered more difficult to operate into and out of than usual and that’s assuming GOOD WEATHER. Some of them are classified as Category C airports. There are only three categories and C is the most potentially hazardous. Let’s look at why that might be.

An example is Heraklion Airport on the island of Crete. When you come into land on Runway 27, the actual start of the concrete strip appears to be located exactly at the top of a cliff… Seriously, it is more than a little disconcerting when you see this for real on final approach to land and even more so at night! I recall the first time I ever landed** at Heraklion (or ‘Eric-the-Lion’ as we used to call it) was in a Boeing 757 from Manchester back in 1989 during my initial Line Training for the airline. It was a night-flight and my Line Training Captain said it would be good experience for me to operate the outbound sector as Pilot Flying. As part of the briefing for the descent and approach to land, he covered the fact that I would probably see the cliffs in the landing lights on short finals – he was right. He warned me against being distracted by this. While I appreciate that it is only psychological, it is still a major distraction to be cognisant of the fact that because land is so precious, they have taken up as much space as possible to build this particular ‘thunder road’. If departing from Runway 09, (the other end) you are therefore critically aware that this runway ENDS at the top of the cliffs… there is nil overrun area should things go wrong. You then have a new respect for the meaning and use of the call “Vee-One” during the take-off roll. Remember, the definition of V1 is that the go/no-go decision should have already been taken by the time that call is complete. A late decision to abort the take-off has been the cause of many take-off accidents. There is a form of words in our Airplane Flight Manual published by the manufacturer which always comes to mind: “Stopping on the paved area is NOT ASSURED in the event of a STOP call made AFTER V1”. Which is another way of saying, “if you do this in Heraklion on RW09… you’ll end up in the sea”. An unpleasant thought.

Funnily enough, even though Heraklion airport left me with an indelible memory, it is not a Category C airport for most airlines – it is classified as ‘Cat B with Restrictions’ by the operator. These restrictions for any of the B and C airports may be Captain’s Only landing/take-off, Simulator Training required, Special Briefing to be signed for as having been given, etc. All these steps are taken for one reason – to mitigate against the threats posed by these rather special locations. Another Airport which is ‘only Category B…’ is Corfu. However, in common with my experiences, many commercial pilots have a story or two to tell about this one.

James’ article will conclude next month, when he reviews the unique challenges posed when landing at Corfu Int Airport, at night, in a sandstorm.


James McBride ©

*The Edwardian Period from 1901-1910, my father (Louis) was born 1919.

**I will admit that I was ‘maxed-out’ with information at that stage of my flying career. I only knew that the airfield was close to the coast, somewhere in Greece. I assumed it was on the mainland, but it was at least a week later when I saw that Heraklion is on an island called Crete!

Author: FTN Editor

Share This News On