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Difficult landings part 2

by Nancy Jackson Media & Communications Officer

Following on from Part 1 of our blog on difficult landings, we hear from just a few more pilots about some of the trickier landings around the world. So far, we’ve highlighted the unique challenges of Gibraltar, San Diego and London City. These last two destinations were always going to make the cut…

4. Innsbruck, Andy Wilson, easyJet

Innsbruck is a popular Tyrollean destination attracting skiers during the winter months and climbers during the summer. Innsbruck Airport’s 2,000 metre runway is nestled deep in a valley with terrain climbing rapidly up to 9,000 feet within only a few miles of the field.


Special crew training is required with an annual trip to the simulator rostered. This is a Category C airfield so the captain is the handling pilot. There are a number of different approach types available and in recent years RNAV approaches have arrived. Circling approach for runway 08 is commonly used when approaching from the east. Before commencing any approach, the aircraft needs to be configured with gear down and an intermediate flap setting, due to the close proximity of the surrounding terrain, and a narrow valley, a minimum bank angle of 25-degrees and a max speed of around 150kts is required to turn in the valley itself.

The airfield is performance limiting, requiring higher minima for heavier aircraft. The balked landing procedure and engine out SID for runway 26 requires careful navaid selection as an NDB and a separate DME station are needed for navigation. A regulated take-off weight calculation will be required for departure.

Foehn conditions are a phenomena resulting in strong winds on the lee side of a mountain range. These can raise temperatures rapidly, and below 4,000 feet cause large wind direction changes resulting in moderate or severe turbulence. To the south of the airfield is the Brenner Pass, in Foehn conditions it is advised to stay above 5,000 feet until after the Brenner Pass when circling for runway 08.

On a clear day Innsbruck is a fantastic place to fly to, and with careful planning and a good briefing, it can be a challenging, but rewarding destination.

5. Funchal Madeira, Dane Handley, Thomas Cook

This is not the airport you decide, at short notice, to divert into if north of the Canaries and a faint smell of burning is in the air. The written brief starts with “Captain only take-off and landings” plus “All landings require visual conditions”… or how about “A330 and B767 are not authorised to operate through Madeira”!


Madeira airport is located on the south-east coastline of Madeira Island at the bottom of mountain peaks that descend steeply into deep valleys and to the sea. The airport is on a small plateau and has been hewn out of the side of a large hill – significant portions of the RWY ends are built on concrete piers. High ground rises to 3,000ft within one and a half miles and then 6,000ft within nine miles to the NW of the runway. Not surprisingly the approach briefing warns that wind variations, turbulence, severe windshear and microbursts may occur.

A quick exploration of YouTube will provide anyone interested with some spectacular approach footage of aircraft ably demonstrating just why this destination is regarded with a little trepidation in anything but very, very light wind conditions. Wind limitations are mandatory and for good measure any infringement of these limitations is reported to the Portuguese CAA.

Not surprisingly captains must do specific simulator training for Funchal and then be checked into Funchal with a Funchal training captain before trying it alone! Captains have to stay “current” with a “successful” (whatever that means) landing here inside six months – all training programmes must be approved by the Portuguese CAA.

The winds are prevailing westerly and the airfield is in the lee of high ground. This gives the hazards of crosswinds, down-draughts and turbulence on finals. This is not a place for pilots who find crosswind landings troublesome. Those brave enough to plan a landing here are warned to pay attention to wind direction indicators located on south side of the runway near each touchdown area. The brief warns that they will reflect unexpected wind changes and occasionally will indicate wind from opposite directions! The wind may be significantly different at each of these locations. The briefing warns that even headwind on runway 23 can cause “weak” turbulence and wind of just 15 knots or less from the north will cause “severe” turbulence.

So, you have the idea about the wind – just a few minor additions to the brief then:
There are only ‘circling’ or visual approaches to either end of the runway and the runway itself is not exactly level. Finally, if you do manage to get on the ground, you must “Consider possible delays to departure due to limiting winds prior to uplifting minimum fuel”… a windshear warning on departure is almost a certainty.

Oh, and there are warnings of “birds in the vicinity”… they clearly haven’t read the brief!

As always, we would love to hear from you if you think we’ve missed one.