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Going Around

Captain Lim Khoy Hing talks about aborted landings and explains why pilots perform this tricky manoeuvre.

In certain movies, when a technical problem or crisis occurs during landing, sometimes the air traffic controller cries something like ‘Abort! Abort!’ So, is this term commonly used in the aviation industry? No! In fact, the correct term used is ‘Go around!’ Apparently, the ‘Abort!’ phrase is used by the film industry to enhance the dramatic effect of a landing gone wrong.

De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk

De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk aircraft.

     In reality, every pilot understands what ‘Go Around’ means. I was introduced to this piece of aviation terminology during my first flying lesson on the Chipmunk in 1967.


My first flying lessons were held at the No 1 Flying Training School at RAF Church Fenton in the United Kingdom. Back then, I was flying the Chipmunk, a two-seater plane used extensively as a primary fl ying training aircraft after the Second World War. It has a 145-horse power piston engine just like my car had, and weighs about the same at 2,000 pounds.

     Unlike other smaller training planes with side-by-side seating, the Chipmunk has a single front- and-back seating. Whilst one would have thought that such a seating arrangement would be a disadvantage to the instructor at the back, it in fact, made the Chipmunk a very successful training aircraft.

     Because of the front- and-back seating, stories of agitated instructors knocking the helmets of students in front were not uncommon – as that was the only means of releasing the trainers’ pent-up emotion mid-fl ight! Fortunately, I had a more patient instructor and was spared that occasional ordeal even though I was not a fast learner.

Amongst the lessons that I was taught was to ‘go around’ when the runway ahead was blocked by a disabled plane or if I had ‘screwed up’ a landing profile.


This term originates from the traditional air traffic pattern that is almost oval shaped, just like a huge racing circuit. Arriving aircraft will just join the circuit pattern in an orderly manner. If for any reason an aircraft is not able to make a successful landing, the plane would just fly back to the normal circuit height and complete another circuit. Hence, such a manoeuvre is termed a ‘Go Around’. This term is still used today even though a modern jetliner may not be using the traditional circuit, but would normally climb straight ahead instead.

Landing Plane

Aircraft lining up for landing at an airport.

“Airlines typically require that a plane must be stabilised at 1,000 feet above the runway in poor visibility and at 500 feet in clear weather. The crew must also have extended the landing gears, performed the necessary tasks on the checklist and be fully readied for the landing. If not, the captain must abort the landing.”


Aborting a landing and ‘Going Around’ on a piston plane is slightly different when compared to the complexity of a modern jetliner due to its powerful engines and higher speeds.

     On a jet plane, going around is a manoeuvre that can be quite work-intensive. It involves pushing the thrust levers forward, retracting the flaps and raising the nose to a specific angle. Then, the navigation computers are reprogrammed, the automation is reset, the checklist is called for, and many more tasks are executed.

     Some pilots have their own personal ‘checklist’ on top of the airline’s procedures for the go-around. They silently remind themselves of the ‘5 Ups’ actions: Power Up, Nose Up, Gear Up, Flaps Up, Speak Up!


In marginal weather and at night, a false illusion can sometimes cause disorientation. Have you ever experienced a false illusion? An example might be if you are sitting in a train at a station, and when the neighbouring train starts to move, you have the illusion that your own train has moved in the opposite direction.

     In the air, this can be even worse. This false sensation (somatogravic) may be encountered especially when no clear horizon is present and flying is wholly or partly by visual external reference.

     The false sensation is caused by the vestibular organs in the ears that are part of the human body’s mechanism to achieve balance and stability. The linear acceleration of the powerful jet engines gives a false sensation of a steep climb, and the automatic response of the pilot is to correct it by pushing the nose down.

     This can be a disastrous response. On August 23, 2000, an Airbus A320 flew into the sea during an intended dark night go around at Bahrain as the result of a false sensation experienced by the pilot. On May 12, 2010, an Airbus A330 descended rapidly into the ground with a high vertical and forward speed at Tripoli. The aircraft was destroyed by the impact and consequent fire. All but one of the 104 on board perished.

     To overcome these false illusions, pilots are continually being trained to be aware of such pitfalls and to trust in their flight instruments.

Landing Plane

Landing Aircraft.


The standard operating procedures of many airlines include a list of conditions that must be satisfied in order to carry out a safe landing. If one or more of these conditions are not achieved, a go around must be performed.

     Airlines typically require that a plane must be stabilised at 1,000 feet above the runway in poor visibility and at 500 feet in clear weather. The crew must also have extended the landing gears, performed the necessary tasks on the checklist and be fully readied for the landing, If not, the captain must abort the landing.

     Most airlines today ensure their pilots abide by the list of conditions by implementing the FOQA (Flight Operational Quality Assurance) safety programme. This programme is designed to improve aviation safety by proactive use of flight recorded data.

     For instance, if the approach speed for landing is 150 knots, the pilot must not allow the approach speed to be in excess of 25 knots above this speed by the time the plane reaches 1,000 feet above the runway. If the pilot does, the information will be captured automatically by the computer.

     He or she will be called up the next morning by the chief pilot safety for an explanation as to the transgression. This is a very effective tool to eliminate bad or unsafe landings.


Lately, there have been three accidents that could have been avoided had the pilot gone around the time. Instead, failure to do so early cause Asian airlines’ Boeing 777 plane to slam into seawall, a Boeing 737 to break its nose gear due to a very hard landing, and Airbus A300 – 600 cargo plane to plough into the hill side short on the runway.

     I hope you now understand that going around is a very safe manoeuvre and often carried out for safety reasons. Crew are encouraged to abort a landing if they think it would jeopardise safety, and no questions would be asked by the management.

     In the past, every go around had to be accounted for and these had a detrimental effect. Some pilots were reluctant to go around in an un-stabilised approach and others were often influenced by the ‘get-home-itis’ syndrome that often contributed to accidents.

     So, if you are on a flight where the landing had to be aborted, rest assured that the delay in arrival time is fully justified for safety reasons. As always, safety is the number one priority in AirAsia.

AirAsia X Simulator Flight Instructor, Captain Lim Khoy Ling.

Captain Lim Khoy Hing is a former AirAsia Airbus A320 and AirAsia X A330/A340 pilot who also used to  fly the Boeing 777. He has logged a total of more than 25,500  flying hours and is now a Simulator Flight Instructor with AirAsia X. In his spare time, he shares his opinion on aviation issues with others. For more air travel and aviation stories, check out his website, ‘Just About Flying’ at  www.askcaptainlim.com.

Life in the Skies - Everything you want to know about flying

Capt. Lim’s first book, Life in the Skies, has just been released. You can purchase it on-board all AirAsia and AirAsia X flights, AirAsia Megastore kiosk at LCCT Sepang or on-line at AirAsia Megastore at www.airasiamegastore.com/life-in-the-skies.html. They are also available in all major book stores in Malaysia and Singapore Enjoy the great collection of articles, anecdotal stories and observations of this veteran aviator in this book.