By the same token a certain amount of optimistic confidence is natural in a pilot, an overly optimistic attitude can lead to wishful thinking. This attitude leads to many of the common human factor accidents, and it is more likely that a pilot will fall prey to wishful thinking on final approach, so the closer a pilot is to his destination, the less likely he is to turn around, divert or abandon the approach. For example, a pilot who realizes he is low on gas many miles from the destination is going to find some place to stop and fill the tanks. As a pilot who is low on gas approaches his destination, wishful thinking can start to kick in. Because of a desire to avoid stopping for gas that close to the destination, the pilot might decide he has enough gas to make it without any specific data to support that decision.
A desire to look good also can lead to wishful thinking. A go-around on final approach is noticeable to everyone on the ground and in the airplane, so the pilot might rationalize the situation to the point that he decides he can make the landing safely and avoid the embarrassment of a go-around. The pilot also might want to avoid wasting the additional time and fuel expended as a result of aborting a landing.
It is a relatively simple and straightforward task to learn how to do a go-around and maintain the ability to do so. However, there are no obvious simple answers to how we can mentally prepare ourselves to actually make the decision to abort the landing in the face of the internal and external pressures we face to get the airplane on the runway at the destination. As I pondered how we might be able to enhance the likelihood of abandoning an unstable approach early in the approach, when it is much safer, I realized one problem is that pilots flying visually rarely initiate go-arounds under operational conditions. It is almost always something we practice on a flight or simulator training session dedicated to those types of maneuvers. Thus there is little or no mental or muscle memory of doing a go-around in normal flight operations, and no significant expectation that the approach might end in a go-around. The expectation is that we are going to land the airplane.
The only way to establish the mental and muscle memory of doing operational go-arounds is to do them on some sort of a regular basis. There is obviously no “one size fits all” solution here. Missionary pilots typically do many takeoffs and landings every day, so I proposed to the missionary aviation community that each pilot be required to do one operational go-around every month. Doing at least 12 operational go-arounds each year would establish the perception that go-arounds do happen. It would keep a pilot current and competent at accomplishing a go-around. Best of all, if an approach was a little off but the pilot was still tempted to try to make it, he could say to himself, “I might as well make this my monthly go-around.” Likewise, if someone asked him why he abandoned the approach, he could say, “I was doing my monthly operational go-around.” Someone who doesn’t fly much might want to do one each quarter or twice a year, or maybe every time he flies. With the airlines’ emphasis on reducing fuel consumption and being on time, this would obviously not be a practical exercise for them. Perhaps the operational go-around could be included in a LOFT (line-oriented flight training) scenario in the simulator.
The other part of this equation is that once you are on the runway, it is too late to do a go-around. If the runway is too short to stop the airplane in time, it is almost certainly too short to take off again, especially if thrust reversers have been deployed. As the captain at Ketchikan experienced, it can take a significant amount of time to stow the reversers and get the engines back up to full power, or the reversers might not stow properly, making it impossible to take off again. It is much better to go off the end of the runway at idle power with the airplane decelerating to the slowest possible speed compared with going off the end of the runway at full power with the airplane accelerating.
This would seem to be an obvious point, but there continue to be accidents in which pilots attempt to take off again after landing long. Having given in to the lure of wishful thinking and continuing the approach in the face of obvious indications that the airplane is too high and too fast, the pilot hears the siren call of wishfully thinking that maybe he can still salvage things by taking off again. Even experienced professional pilots can be sucked into this type of thinking, so I would challenge every pilot to accomplish a reasonable number of operational go-arounds throughout the year. This will prepare you to take the conservative response and abort an unstabilized approach early, when it is a non-event, eliminating any temptation to take off again after landing long.