4. Runway incursions or obstacles on the runway

Another, while uncommon, the reason for a go-around could be presented by an obstacle on the runway or, as the official lingo goes, runway incursion. A runway incursion is usually the result of an aircraft moving onto the runway without clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC), such as this example from New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in January 2020.

Another reason, especially at congested airports, is the lack of minimal separation between aircraft. The guidelines laid out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), for example, indicate that when aircraft are landing on the same runway, they need to be separated by at least 6,000 feet if the one of the aircraft is a Category III (all other planes, usually used in commercial aviation, as defined by the FAA) aircraft require at least 6,000 feet.

If the minimum distance cannot be maintained, pilots abort the landing procedure and initiate a go-around to avoid contact with an aircraft on the ground. In 2017, potentially one of the scariest close calls happened when an Air Canada Airbus A320 almost landed on the taxiway at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), where several other aircraft were holding before taking-off towards their destinations.

So, these are some of the reasons why pilots initiate a go-around procedure. But how do flight crews perform a go-around?

Initiating a go-around

Even before getting on an aircraft, flight crews gets on the aircraft, they are briefed on their flight path if a go-around occurs. The potential route of a go-around is also loaded onto the Flight Management System (FMS).

When the conditions are not right for one reason or another to complete the landing, the pilots press the Take-off/Go-Around (TO/GA) button that allows increasing the thrust of the aircraft’s engines and also disconnects the autopilot. Flaps are also set to Flap 15. As the aircraft pitches up from the pilots’ commands and is climbing, the landing gear is raised, with Flaps going from 15 to five, one to being raised completely. 

With the plane positioned between 2,000 or 3,000 feet above sea level, the pilots start holding altitude and decide on their next course of action: whether to attempt another landing, fix a technical issue if there is one, or to divert to a different airport.

Little did passengers on AerLingus Flight EI236 know they were in for a surprise ride when the flight took off from Dublin, Ireland, en route to London Gatwick, UK. The strong Storm Ciara wind gusts prevented the Airbus A320 from landing at Gatwick. Instead, almost three hours after takeoff, the passengers found themselves in Germany.