This first appeared as a Comment in the 29 July issue of Flight International.
The most common category of airline accident all over the world is the runway excursion. It follows that, if the industry could identify the causal factors in detail, then find ways to mitigate them, this move would have the potential to lower the accident rate more than any other safety strategy.
A factor in the majority of runway overruns or excursions on landing is that the final approach to land was not stabilised. So back in 2010 the airlines came up with a definition of a stable approach and told their pilots that if they were not stable by 1,000ft on final approach they were to go around again.
But overruns kept happening anyway. Why? It turns out that pilots ignored that advice more than 90% of the time, but that when they did ignore it they still landed safely more than 90% of the time. If that sounds confusing, it gets worse: when pilots go around they often handle the manoeuvre badly – sometimes fatally badly for all on board. So is it best to land anyway because the go-around is even more risky?
The Flight Safety Foundation, leading the research on this frustrating issue, is refusing to be beaten, and is examining in great depth not only the visible problems pilots face, but also the psychological factors that bear on their dynamic decision-making in the critical land/go-around phase. Overruns are not always fatal, but if the FSF is successful it will save a lot of bent metal.