Living in Colorado and playing in the Rocky Mountains, we natives and lifestyle adoptees are no strangers to the diverse conditions that tease us every 5 to 10 minutes – sun, rain, snow, severe wind – and that’s just in one day. And all of us are well trained to adjust to the safety needs of severe weather travel and high altitude conditions.
No one balks at the weather or the additional gear that goes along with the Rocky Mountain lifestyle, however, if you’re a regular traveler and charter flight patron, balked landings are a common part of a pilots training and though very rare, a very good response in congested or last minute scenarios; a strong gust of wind, a wayward fuel truck too close to or on the runway, or another aircraft taxiing across the runway. Add a high altitude or remote location to the airport and you potentially face the local wildlife, bold and daring, and sometimes completely unimpressed by a jet engine and slow to move or stand down. In these cases, a balked landing, also known as a go-around, creates a better opportunity for a near perfect landing, and lets you have another chance to take in the terrain and surroundings from a high vantage point before emerging from the comfort of your luxury aircraft.
When it comes to mountain airports like Aspen and Eagle Colorado, surrounded by towering peaks, ever changing weather conditions, and abundant wildlife, balked landings are a part of a pilot’s arsenal of safety – and safety is the foundation of all pilot training and operating procedures in any charter flight service, like Mountain Aviation, a premier charter flight service who regularly operates in and out of these airports.
A balked landing is a set of well choreographed actions, tailored to each aircraft, and well worth the practice even though extremely rare. Your aircraft is approaching the runway as usual, a smooth descent toward the ground with the terrain becoming more and more visible, the flaps are down, the landing gear is down and ready, the power decreased, and a beautiful landing seems inevitable. Yet for some reason, the pilot notices or determines a potential hazard and decides to “go round” or the tower radios possible runway congestion or an obstruction and asks you to “go around”. It’s time to regain altitude and take a second look or a different approach to your landing. The pilot pitches the aircraft up while simultaneously adding back power, retracts the landing gear, and adjusts the flaps, clearing any surrounding terrain, gaining altitude as well as time to reassess the situation. Simple, right? Not quite, now try this at night with nothing more than your instruments or runway lights to guide your landing. It takes more than just skillful piloting to perform a balked landing; it takes the right aircraft for certain mountain airports and specific procedures to make it safe. You wouldn’t let your 12 year old nephew try to drive a yugo straight up a mountain on an unkempt 4-wheel drive road would you?
Every mountain airport has specific requirements for the type of aircraft, based on its power and equipment, and crew proficiency capable of landing in high altitude environments. As one of the top private charter flight operators in the Rocky Mountain region, Mountain Aviation operates three aircraft, the Gulfstream G150 and the Citation Excel and Citation Ultra that are approved to operate into Aspen and Eagle at night, a coveted distinction in charter flying. Procedures are customized for each aircraft by the Aircraft Performance Group (APG) and based on a worst case scenario of single engine operation. In other words, one engine has failed and you still need to be able to abort the landing and pull up and clear of the surrounding hazard or terrain. Pilots are then trained for this procedure in aircraft simulators at the prestigious Flight Safety International until the maneuvers come second hand.
So although the name invokes a potentially messy and gaffed end to a flight, a balked landing has been carefully practiced and meticulously developed and reviewed by a team of professionals, from the airport, to a performance group, to a training facility, to the charter company, to the cockpit, so that air travel can be safely enjoyed by everyone, even the spectator wildlife.