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If you fly regularly, you may have been on a flight that was preparing to land but the pilots chose to pull out of the approach to the airport instead. They may have gained altitude, circled the airport and lined up for another approach to landing.

In aviation terminology, this is called a go-around. It is a common and very safe practice that pilots are trained for when everything is not quite right for landing.

Some passengers get concerned that a go-around means everything is not safe, however, the exact opposite is true.

In Australia, over 800 standard go-arounds are performed in a typical year.

On average, that’s more than two on any given day at an airport or aerodrome somewhere around the country.

The procedure is used to make sure all aspects of a landing are safe and when in doubt, pilots choose to go-around.

Below are the answers to some common questions about this everyday aviation procedure.

What is a go-around?

A go-around is a procedure that is performed if a pilot is not completely satisfied that the requirements are in place for a safe landing.

A go-around is a safe, standard aircraft manoeuvre which simply discontinues an approach to landing. Go-arounds ensure passengers and aircraft are not placed in potentially dangerous situations.

Go-arounds are a commonly taught manoeuvre and are routinely practiced by all pilots, all around the world. This includes students who are yet to fly their first solo flight right through to airline pilots with many thousands of hours of flying experience.

Go-arounds are part of normal aviation practice and are a basic tool for pilots to ensure safety is not compromised during approach and landing.

Pilots will perform a go-around if they are not perfectly satisfied with any aspect of an approach and landing.

Requirements for a safe landing

Passenger-carrying aircraft are generally required to meet a number of standard criteria when approaching and landing.

These requirements usually relate to the aircraft’s configuration and performance, air traffic control requirements, other aircraft and the environment.

When a pilot is fully satisfied that all safety requirements are met, the aircraft is considered to be in what is called a ‘stabilised approach.’

What can affect a stabilised approach?

The following factors can affect a stabilised approach. They represent the usual type of criteria that are assessed on every approach to land.

Aircraft performance and configuration factors including:

  • Aircraft speed
  • Height above ground at various stages along the approach path
  • The configuration of the aircraft and its systems, such as landing gear and flap settings
  • Power settings
  • The angle or ‘bank’ of the aircraft
  • The aircraft’s rate of descent
  • Weather and visibility.

Air traffic control and other traffic factors including:

  • Clearance to land from air traffic control
  • Potential conflict with other aircraft on or near the landing runway
  • Potential conflict with other aircraft taking off or landing.

Environmental factors including:

  • Wind speed
  • Cross wind and/or downwind components
  • Turbulence
  • Visibility
  • Cloud base.

Generally, if one or more of these criteria are missing or are outside certain predetermined parameters, the aircraft is considered to be in an unstabilised approach.

In these circumstances the pilot will usually abandon the approach and landing and initiate a go-around.

What happens at a go-around?

Once a go-around has been initiated, air traffic control will confirm with the crew that no assistance is required and all operations are normal. The crew will then fly a pre-determined route and/or receive specific instructions from air traffic control that allow them to reposition the aircraft for another approach to land.

A go-around usually only involves a delay of about 10 to 15 minutes and the priority is always to ensure the safety of the passengers and aircraft.

Go-arounds performed by major airlines are usually investigated by the airline involved and/or air traffic control. These investigations are not designed to lay blame, but to see whether the contributing factors that may have triggered the go-around can be identified and isolated. This helps airlines, air traffic control and the aviation community as a whole put in place strategies to prevent a recurrence.

Go-arounds at non-towered airports

Go-arounds can also occur at airports where there are no air traffic control services in place.

A go-around at a non-towered airport is a prescribed manoeuvre which takes the aircraft to a non-active side of the circuit and runway in use. This allows the pilot to position the aircraft away from other air traffic and prepare to either rejoin the circuit for another approach and landing, or, if necessary, leave the airport and fly on to another location where conditions might be more suitable.

What does a go-around feel like?

If you are a passenger on an aircraft that conducts a go-around, you could notice that the nose of the aircraft may pitch up and you may feel as if you are pushed back in your seat as thrust is applied.

You may also notice some additional noise from the aircraft engines and possibly mechanical noises from the aircraft undercarriage and flaps.

These are some of the perfectly normal signs you could expect to experience during a go-around.