Committed To Stop: Go Around Or Ride It Out?
The lack of accurate, timely information about the amount and nature of runway contamination has been a factor in too many accidents. Knowing if the pavement is wet, slushy or icy makes a big difference in a pilot’s decision to land. And if upon touching down, the runway proves slicker than expected, the decision time on what to do next narrows, one’s attention begins to tunnel and the peril has increased exponentially. Go around or ride it out?
The pilot of a Cessna Citation 525C made the wrong choice on Jan. 16, 2017, lost control of the airplane, went off the runway’s end and finally came to stop, wingless, inverted and on fire. Miraculously and thanks to a stranger’s heroism, the pilot was pulled from the wreckage, seriously injured, but alive.
The CJ4, N525PZ, departed single pilot from Genesee County Airport (KGVQ), Batavia, New York, at 1057 local, destined for Livingston County Airport (KOZW) in Howell, Michigan. The FAR Part 91 business jet was on an IFR flight plan.
Prior to departure, the pilot used the Aviation Digital Data Services (ADDS METAR) website to check the weather and NOTAMs. At the time, KOZW was reporting winds 160 at 3 kt.; 5-sm visibility with mist; sky conditions, 5,000 ft. broken, 6,500 ft. overcast; temperature, -1-C; and dew point -3C. A few minutes after the airplane launched, KOZW began reporting light snow, with visibility decreasing to 3 sm.
As the airplane descended toward the airport, the pilot listened to the KOZW AWOS-3 recording whose information was essentially the same as a METAR. Unlike the Automatic Terminal Information System (ATIS) at towered airports, AWOS does not provide information like landing runway, approach in use or field conditions. KOZW was still reporting 3 mi. visibility in light snow and temperature/dew point of -1C/-3C. The airplane was equipped with Next-Generation Radar (NEXRAD) and onboard radar. The NEXRAD showed precipitation, but when the flight broke out of the broken cloud layer, the pilot saw none.
Upon being vectored to the ILS Runway 13 approach, the pilot canceled his IFR clearance. He then made calls on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) during the approach and again on short final. However, he didn’t query anyone on the frequency as to the condition of the runway. He noticed what he thought was a Cessna 180 on the right side of the runway and assumed that pilot would not be preparing to take off if conditions were icy.
In a later telephone interview with an FAA inspector, the CJ4 pilot said he knew an icy runway was a possibility because of the weather conditions. As a result, he had planned to touch down, test the brakes, and then, if necessary, go around. He stated he flew at Vref and landed “on the chevrons.” The pilot told the NTSB investigator in charge (IIC) that the spoilers deployed at touchdown and he then “tapped the brakes” only to discover he had no stopping action. Thereupon, as planned, he retracted the spoilers, raised the flaps and advanced the power to go around.
Unfortunately, one engine spooled up faster than the other and the airplane began to yaw to the left. The pilot recalled reducing power to idle and applying right rudder to correct the airplane’s heading, but the jet continued off the 5,002-ft.-long runway. Upon leaving the pavement, the aircraft struck a fence, plowed through a ditch, screeched across a road, burst into flames as it rolled inverted and finally came to a stop. A witness told an FAA inspector that he saw a fireball and the airplane roll upside down. At that point, he stopped his car, hustled to the aircraft, opened the cabin door and helped the pilot get out of the burning wreckage.
The NTSB conducted a “Limited” investigation of the accident and, as such, the IIC did not travel to KOZW. She was assisted by FAA inspectors and air safety investigators from Textron Aviation. The State of Michigan also conducted an investigation and forwarded its report to the IIC.
According to the Textron Technical Report, the wings separated from the fuselage and had post-impact fire damage. The right flap and inboard section aileron remained attached to the right wing. The left flap and inboard section of the aileron remained attached to the left wing. Both wing outboard sections were separated from their respective wings. The fuselage was inverted with the empennage attached. The outboard approximately one-third of the left elevator was separated from the empennage. Inside the cockpit, the speed brake handle was observed in the 0% position, throttles were in takeoff, and the flaps were retracted.
The airplane was equipped with a Cessna Aircraft Recording System (AReS) and investigators were able to determine ground speed, throttle lever angle, true airspeed, speed brakes, weight on wheels and altitude. The data showed that after touching down, the throttles were advanced for a period of about 15 sec., reduced, then advanced momentarily once again.
The pilot reported the two-year-old airplane had logged 320 hr. since new. Its last inspection was two days before the accident. He also reported the airplane’s landing weight was 14,500 lb. At that weight, the performance landing section of the airplane flight manual (AFM) showed the Vref should be 108 kt. and the dry runway landing distance for the conditions at the time of the accident was 2,700 ft. The manual provided adverse runway correction data that showed if the runway had 0.5 in. of water on it, the landing distance would be 2,950 ft., and if it had 2.0 in. of dry snow, the landing distance would be 3,750 ft. The landing distance shown for wet ice was 13,625 ft.
The private, instrument-rated pilot reported he had type ratings in the Citation Mustang, CitationJet and the British Aircraft 167 Strikemaster, and was SIC qualified in the B-17 Stratofortress. He also had a helicopter rating. He reported he had 5,800 hr. at the time of the accident, including 320 hr. in the CJ4. He had flown this model airplane 17.4 hr. in the last 30 days, 64.9 hr. in the last 90 days, and his last flight review was on April 10, 2016, at FlightSafety International in the CE525C simulator.
The skills required to obtain a single-pilot type rating in a multiengine turbine-powered airplane normally correspond to those needed for a commercial or ATP pilot certificate.
A witness said he saw the airplane touch down prior to the Taxiway A-2 turnoff, and another witness said he saw the airplane in the flare “a couple hundred feet past the Crosswinds building.” A third witness said when he heard the jet noise increase he thought “it was a bit late for thrust reversers.” The pilot told the Michigan investigator he thought he had applied full power when he was about halfway down the runway.
A Google Maps measurement showed that the distance from the approach end of Runway 13 to Taxiway A-2 is 1,650 ft. The Crosswinds building is on the west side of the airport with a direct view of Runway 13’s landing area. If the airplane touched down 1,500 ft. beyond the approach end, the pilot took 6 sec. to brake, then applied takeoff power at the halfway point of the runway and left it there for 15 sec., it would have been 4,900 ft. down the runway before he retarded the thrust levers.
In addition to the reported METAR information, witnesses reported nearby roads were slick and icy, and sleet and freezing rain had begun about an hour before the accident. The mechanic who was taxiing the Cessna 185 the pilot saw before landing said conditions were mist or light rain with ice on the pavement. He was waiting to cross the runway to go back to the shop after doing maintenance.
The airport staff had not issued any NOTAMs regarding the icy runway conditions. Neither the airport manager nor the employee on duty had learned how to enter data into the digital NOTAM manager system. That system had been introduced by the FAA in October 2016.
The FAA’s NOTAM search feature is a major improvement to the older system. When field condition NOTAMs are issued, you can find them easily and they are easy to understand. Go to https://notams.aim.faa.gov/notamSearch/nsapp.html#/ and enter your airport ID, and look for the field condition (FICON) line items.
In its analysis, the Safety Board considered the pilot’s attempt to land, his mistaken assumption about the Cessna 185 he saw, the wet ice landing distance and the lack of NOTAM reporting by airport officials.
The probable cause issued was: “The pilot’s attempted landing on the ice-covered runway, which resulted in a runway excursion and impact with terrain. Contributing to the accident was airport personnel’s lack of training regarding issuance of NOTAMs.”
One of the main reasons for owning and operating high-performance turbine-powered business airplanes is the convenience they provide in using smaller airports located near customers and distant corporate offices. With that convenience comes some additional considerations, and I think this case illustrates two of those.
The advisability of an attempted stop and go — This CJ4 accident bears some resemblance to another accident in 2008. In that one, the pilot tried to stop a Hawker 125-800, applying wheel brakes and lift dump, and then decided to go around. His airplane struck the localizer antenna, crashed in a cornfield, and all aboard were killed.
During the investigation of that accident, I interviewed three highly experienced business pilots who were teaching at the Part 142 school where the accident pilots trained. They had between 15,000 and 29,000 hr., all had type ratings in Hawkers and Cessna jets, and two were typed in Learjets. One was typed in the Lockheed JetStar, and one had been an FAA inspector for 16 years and supervised 100 Part 135 certificates. Two had long experience as pilot examiners.
When asked if an attempted stop-and-go maneuver (I’ll call it ASG) like the Hawker accident pilot did was a good idea, two of the three instructors said no. One said he had never conducted a go-around after deploying lift dump and he did not teach or recommend doing so. He said attempting a go-around after deploying lift dump was “a good way to crumple the airplane” and “the odds are way against it.” However, the third instructor said if you brief beforehand, you can do the go-around quickly. He was referring to a two-crew airplane whose pilots had good coordination.
He related a personal experience of flying into a small airport on the north shore of Lake Superior with a 5,600-ft.-long runway that in winter usually had ice on it but no braking reports available. He said it was a tricky maneuver and should be practiced beforehand on a longer runway.
The divergence of opinion among these experts tells me that some pilots still consider the ASG maneuver an acceptable practice. So, I think it’s reasonable to explore the options more closely.
In favor of the ASG is the value of getting into the particular airport. Often there’s an office nearby and few alternatives. The company airplane has to prove its value. The Lake Superior airport noted earlier was located near a primary business destination for the pilot’s company and there wasn’t another suitable airport. It was land or go home.
The downside of the ASG is the very high risk of an accident. On a relatively short runway, there is no room for error. The Hawker crew took 7 sec. to deploy lift dump and remained on the 5,500-ft. runway for 17 sec. before the pilots set takeoff thrust. The NTSB found that if they had continued to brake, the airplane would probably have stopped in the runway overrun.
Another example took place on July 15, 2005. A Citation 525A collided with a localizer antenna in Newnan, Georgia, after the pilot conducted a go-around late in the landing roll on a wet, ungrooved runway. The pilot stated that he applied brakes upon landing and that the airplane then hydroplaned. He then chose to abort the landing with 2,300 ft. of runway remaining (the runway was 5,500 ft. long).
In the CJ4 accident in Howell, Michigan, the pilot made several errors that I think were predictable. He used the airplane flight management system to calculate landing distance, but the values produced by that system were only as good as the runway contamination data he entered. In addition, he failed to make a CTAF call asking anyone about the runway condition, and he made a wrong assumption about the intent of the Cessna 185 he saw on the ground. Furthermore, he failed to realistically anticipate the time and distance required to flare and brake.
As noted, when he applied takeoff thrust, the engines spooled up unevenly. This is most likely to happen when you move the thrust levers rapidly, which can happen in a time-critical event like a go-around. He raised the flaps to zero, which increased the ground distance required to get airborne. And the kinetic energy he added during his 15-sec. go-around attempt added greatly to the destructive force of the crash.
To me, one of the biggest negative factors about ASG is the lack of procedure, training or guidance on how and when to do the maneuver, and the impossibility of calculating aircraft takeoff distance and climb performance. You are, in effect, a test pilot attempting to do something no competent authority has demonstrated to be safe. When you plan to apply brakes on an icy runway and then go around, you are betting the airplane that you will perform flawlessly doing a complex maneuver you’ve never practiced.
In 2011, the NTSB wrote a “commit-to-stop” recommendation (A-11-18) intended to have manufacturers set some limitation on the latest point on landing where a go-around should be attempted. The FAA declined to act on this recommendation, but wrote an Information for Operators bulletin (InFO 17009) on the subject. The InFO leaves it up to the operator to determine the commit-to-stop point. The problem with this idea is that small operators and private pilots have no flight standards department, aircraft performance department or safety department to help set policy and probably don’t read InFOs or even know what they are. Our CJ4 accident pilot may have had only informal sources of information to help him formulate a plan for landing at KOSW.
Assessing landing distance — Following the runway excursion of Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 at Chicago’s Midway Airport (KMDW) on Dec. 5, 2005, the NTSB issued recommendation A-07-57. It called for Part 121, 135 and 91K operators to do an arrival landing distance assessment (LDA) based on actual conditions and add a 15% safety margin. The FAA did not write a new regulation, but issued SAFO 06012 and Advisory Circular AC 91-79A, which recommends the LDA to both turbojet and non-turbojet operators. In other words, use the latest and best available weather and runway information and recalculate landing distance before you land.
FAA FICON NOTAMs now use the Runway Condition Assessment Matrix (RCAM) 1 to 6 numbering system, which you can find in Section 4-3-9 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). If KOZW personnel had entered a FICON NOTAM at the time the CJ4 departed, it probably would have been 5/5/5, which corresponds to wet, frost or up to one-eighth inch of slush, dry or wet snow on the touchdown, midfield and roll-out zones of the runway. (See “Slip Sliding on Snow,” BCA, September 2020, page 46.) That was well within the landing performance capability of the airplane.
The light snow that began 5 min. after the airplane departed and the freezing temperatures were apparently enough to form an icy glaze on all the pavement in the vicinity of KOZW by the time the airplane arrived. The actual field conditions at the time of arrival were of critical importance. Just a verbal description of icy pavement should have been enough to send this pilot to another airport. An important conclusion is that the most recent information is best.
Two accidents illustrate the value of paying attention to last-minute runway condition information. On April 12, 2007, a Pinnacle Airlines Bombardier CL-200 regional jet overran the end of Runway 28 at Cherry Capital Airport (KTVC) in Traverse City, Michigan. ASOS data reported visibility, 0.5 sm in snow; temperature, 0C; dew point, -1C. Snow removal was in progress, and while the airplane was on final approach, the airport operations supervisor told the captain on the CTAF frequency that the estimated braking action was “probably nil.”
However, the RJ captain was skeptical of this report and continued his approach. He did not conduct a landing distance assessment; if he had, he would have realized the airplane could not stop on the runway available. The latest information from the supervisor, though irregular, was the best information.
And on March 5, 2015, Delta Flight 1086 departed the left side of Runway 13 at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (KLGA) in a snowstorm. The crew had carefully assessed landing performance, but runway conditions worsened while they were on approach. When the captain called the runway in sight at 233 ft. AGL, he expected to see the runway surface, but it was covered with snow. He had 23 sec. to decide to land or go-around. The latest information was in front of him, and it suggested a go-around would be the best choice. He decided to land.
If you fly a business jet or turboprop, you will undoubtedly face a similar situation at some point. I think the first takeaway from this accident is to consider this commit-to-stop policy carefully: In doubtful conditions, go around, and if you land, stay on the ground at the first application of braking or deployment of stopping devices. The second takeaway is to do an arrival landing distance assessment using the best and most-recent field condition information.