In most cases, a missed approach is begun at or before the applicable DA or MDA for the approach being flown. Because any later decision to go around must have followed an earlier positive decision by PF to continue to a landing, it is often described as a rejected landing or a baulked landing, although neither term has any formal definition. It may or may not involve at least part of the landing gear contacting the runway and in extreme cases, touchdown may have occurred on all main landing gear units.
A decision to reject a landing which has previously been judged achievable with safety is often the only way to avoid aircraft damage through a Loss of Control near to or on the runway, which may also culminate in a Runway Excursion outcome. This could be the result of a sudden deterioration in forward visibility or extreme wind velocity variations. It may even be the only way to avoid a runway collision if a Runway Incursion occurs at a late stage.
The Decision to Land
Flight Crew are routinely conditioned during normal training regimes to make what is often seen as a final decision to ‘Land’ or ‘Go Around’ at the designated DA / DH or MDA / MDH for an approach. At this decision point, a call of ‘Decide’ is made by the PM and if the response by PF is ‘Land’ this course of action is sustained to a successful landing on nearly every occasion. The effect of this is to make most flight crew ‘land - minded’ in the same way that current flight training, with its Stabilised Approach gates and Non-Precision Approach flown by a Continuous Descent Final Approach (CDFA) encourages crews to be ‘go-around minded’ prior to that point. The experience of accidents and incidents has shown that this commitment to land acts as a powerful force in response to the unexpected just prior to or during a landing and that, when presented with a runway incursion or potential loss of control on the runway, the option of a rejected landing is not always considered.
A rejected landing is a last opportunity to avoid completing an ill-advised landing attempt, which has a high probability of ending up as some form of Runway Excursion. Flight Crew are wise if they take advantage of it when it is clear that they may lose full control of their aircraft if they continue to a landing which was anticipated, only a few seconds earlier, by the usual response to the ‘Decide’ call.
Aircraft Type Issues
Whilst a missed approach can be begun on all aircraft types prior to all main gear making runway contact (and if runway contact by both main gear subsequently occurs during the transition from descent to climbing away), for some aircraft types deciding to reject a landing once all main gear assemblies have made runway contact may not be allowable under the AFM. It is therefore essential for flight crew to familiarise themselves with any limitations which may be applicable to their aircraft type in this respect.
Because the go around is initiated beyond and below the published missed approach point, obstacle clearance may be compromised. In most cases this is not a significant factor but, if the published missed approach has a turn which starts at the MAP or if there is a non standard gradient published, obstacle clearance becomes an issue. In these cases, use of the engine failure on takeoff flightpath for the runway in use, if one exists, instead of the missed approach procedure, would provide the appropriate safety. Obviously, this eventuality would have to be considered as part of the approach planning - it is simply too late at the baulked landing decision point to try and come up with an alternate plan.
At a very few airports, mostly in mountainous areas, a baulked landing at a late stage will put the aircraft in severe danger of terrain impact.
Accidents & Incidents
On 31 July 2008, the crew of an HS125-800 attempted to reject a landing at Owatonna MN after a prior deployment of the lift dumping system but their aircraft overran the runway then briefly became airborne before crashing. The aircraft was destroyed and all 8 occupants were killed. The Investigation attributed the accident to poor crew judgement and general cockpit indiscipline in the presence of some fatigue and also considered that it was partly consequent upon the absence of any regulatory requirement for either pilot CRM training or operator SOP specification for the type of small aircraft operation being undertaken.
On 10 January 2011, an Air Atlanta Icelandic Airbus A300-600 on a scheduled cargo flight made a bounced touchdown at East Midlands and then attempted a go around involving retraction of the thrust reversers after selection out and before they had fully deployed. This prevented one engine from spooling up and, after a tail strike during rotation, the single engine go around was conducted with considerable difficulty at a climb rate only acceptable because of a lack of terrain challenges along the climb out track.
On 17 April 2011, a Boeing 777F bounced three times during an attempted landing at Copenhagen during which the underside of the aircraft was damaged by two tailstrikes. The second occurred during over-rotation for a go around commenced after thrust reverser deployment, with 760 metres of the 3300 metre-long runway remaining. The Investigation observed that a go around initiated after thrust reverser deployment was contrary to an express prohibition in the aircraft type FCOM. It was noted that the aircraft commander was an instructor pilot and that both pilots had less than 200 hours experience on the aircraft type.
On 1 March 2008 an Airbus A320 being operated by Lufthansa on a scheduled passenger flight from Munich to Hamburg experienced high and variable wind velocity on short finals in good daylight visibility and during the attempt at landing on runway 23 with a strong crosswind component from the right, a bounced contact of the left main landing gear with the runway was followed by a left wing down attitude which resulted in the left wing tip touching the ground. A rejected landing was then flown and after radar vectoring, a second approach to runway 33 was made to a successful landing. No aircraft occupants were injured but the aircraft left wing tip was found to have been damaged by the runway contact. The track of the aircraft and spot wind velocities given by ATC at key points are shown on the illustration below.
On 27 April 2008 an Airbus A340-300 crew lost previously-acquired visual reference in fog on a night auto ILS into Nairobi but continued to a touchdown which occurred with the aircraft heading towards the edge of the runway following an inappropriate rudder input. The left main gear departed the paved surface and a go around was initiated and a diversion made. The event was attributed to a delay in commencing the go around. No measured RVR from any source was passed by ATC although it was subsequently found to have been recorded as I excess of Cat 1 limits throughout.