Flying in stormy winds – is it safe? From sideways landings to the UK’s windiest airport

With storms – such as Brian – taking over from rain as the UK’s number one weather obsession, internet users are being treated to an endless stream of lurching passenger jets touching down at UK airports – but is it really risky to land in strong winds or just another day in the office for highly trained pilots?

Here we look at what pilots really think about stormy landings and the surprising truth behind those ‘sideways’ approaches that look so terrifying on YouTube…

So, are those wonky landings causing panic in the cockpit?

Not at all. According to Patrick Smith, a US pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, the skewed final approach is not even caused by the wind, but simply the pilot using the correct technique to control his aircraft in the event of strong crosswinds.

Ideally, planes should land with the nose into the wind in the centre of the runway. If they’re approaching with a tricky crosswind, they’ll approach with the nose facing the wind.

Then, just before touchdown, the pilot will bring the plane’s nose inline with the runway. If it’s pulled round too early, the pilot may abort the landing and try again.

It might look like the plane is being blown off-course and the idea of an aborted landing is scary, but rest-assured, the pilot will be in control and going through a tricky but controlled process.

Can the winds be too strong to land?

Very rarely, yes. Additionally, they may be of a type that makes it risky to attempt a landing – and passenger safety will never be compromised. If this is the case, the plane will simply divert to a alternative airport.

Are some airports more ‘windy’ than others?

Perform a search on YouTube for ‘wobbly landings in the UK’ and you’ll see a large amount of results return video filmed at Leeds Bradford. It’s also worth noting, there’s never been a wind-related incident at this popular international airport.

Why is Leeds Bradford the place to see impressive landings?

This is because at 681ft above sea level, it’s the UK’s highest airport.

And finally…

Strong winds might be uncomfortable, but they can also get you to your holiday a lot quicker. Thanks to a strong tailwind, a 2015 flight from New York to London took just five hours and 16 minutes when the usual journey time is around seven hours.


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