Storm Eunice: What it’s like for the pilot landing a plane in high winds

‘Landing in high winds, while more challenging than in calm conditions, is regularly practised by pilots in the simulator,’ says BA’s chief pilot

Helen Coffey
Saturday 19 February 2022 15:56 GMT
Watch live as planes try to land at Heathrow as Storm Eunice chaos hits UK

Today saw hundreds of thousands of Brits utterly spellbound by the sight of aircraft struggling to land at Heathrow airport amid brutal winds, courtesy of Storm Eunice.

Big Jet TV, which livestreamed the landings and “go-arounds” (when landing wasn’t an option), attracted nearly 200,000 viewers at one point, with the UK temporarily turned into a nation of avid planespotters.

Pilots garnered new-found respect as footage showed aircraft swaying dramatically in extreme winds.

But just how difficult is it to land in high winds as a pilot? And do these weather conditions ever mean a flight is in danger?

The Independent spoke to British Airways’ Chief Pilot Training, Rich Allen-Williams, to find out.

How challenging is it to land a plane during high winds like we’ve seen today?

Landing in high winds, while more challenging than in calm conditions, is regularly practised by pilots in the simulator. We have a state of the art training centre located at Heathrow, with 15 full motion flight simulators which enable the regular honing of these skills. At British Airways, we fly across the globe and our pilots regularly experience a variety of environmental conditions.

Is there any special protocol when attempting to land in high winds?

Pilots continuously monitor and assess the changing conditions on all approaches. Aircraft manufacturers and British Airways provide pilots with guidance on wind limits. When landing in high winds where the direction does not align directly with the runway, pilots use a specially trained cross-wind technique which is practiced regularly in our simulators.

What is a “go around” and what challenges does this manoeuvre present?

This is a manoeuvre that a pilot will choose to perform if they decide to discontinue the approach and landing. It involves adding additional power, climbing away and changing the aircraft’s configuration. While this manoeuvre can sometimes appear spectacular, it is a routinely practised one and part of a pilot’s normal skillset.

At what point do you make the call when coming into land that it’s too dangerous?

Pilots continuously monitor and assess conditions on all approaches. The pilots may choose to discontinue an approach or landing at any point up to the selection of reverse thrust during the landing roll.

Is it still safe, even when winds are high?

The ability to land safely in high winds is a fundamental skill and capability for all pilots.

What’s the trickiest landing you’ve ever had to do?

Many of the landings I practised and been trained on in the simulator have provided a greater challenge than those I have performed in the aircraft.

I can recall landing in Las Vegas, in particularly inclement weather involving high winds which were continuously changing in direction and strength. The  training I had participated in during my career with British Airways gave me a key set of skills to manage the conditions.

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