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Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight

Landing inferno

Bringing a sleek, fast airplane in hot and high might not be an issue when there's a mile of pavement ahead. But cut that distance in half--on a runway carved into a mountaintop--and the margin for error becomes razor thin.

On May 26, 2007, a Columbia 350 crashed during an aborted landing at Mountain Air Airport in Burnsville, North Carolina. After approaching the 2,800-foot runway high and fast, the airplane bounced several times and careened into a row of parked aircraft. The impact ignited a blaze that consumed three aircraft, including the Columbia. The pilot and two passengers were killed.

The flight had departed Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg, Florida, at approximately 8 a.m. Three hours later, the pilot approached Mountain Air, a private-use airport located atop a 4,400-foot peak. As the Columbia turned final for Runway 32, witnesses observed the airplane coming in higher and faster than expected.

The aircraft touched down about a third of the way down the runway and bounced hard. Then, at roughly the runway midpoint, the Columbia bounced again. Following the second bounce, witnesses heard the engine go to full power and saw the airplane veer left. It bounced off a steep embankment, crossed back over the runway, and slammed into the row of airplanes. The NTSB concluded that the crash resulted from the pilot's improper recovery from a bounced landing, which led to a loss of directional control.

Recovering from a botched landing--particularly if the recovery involves a delayed go-around--can be a challenge in any airplane. The problem can be compounded in modern aircraft that feature sleek, light airframes and large engines.

According to data analyzed for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation report Technologically Advanced Aircraft: Safety and Training, technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) have a higher percentage of landing (53 percent versus 40 percent) and go-around (11 percent versus 4 percent) accidents than the overall GA fleet. The report notes that with "slick composite fuselages and wings, some new-design TAAs can be difficult to slow down to the desired approach speed, leading to porpoising during the flare or long landings."

If a problem develops during approach, especially at a tricky airport, it's far better to make another trip around the pattern than to push ahead and risk a runway overshoot or loss of control, no matter what type of airplane you fly.

An aviation technical writer for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, Carl Peterson creates interactive courses and other safety education materials for the aviation community. He has been flying since 1989.

By Carl Peterson

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