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Contribution of Unstabilised Approaches to Aircraft Accidents and Incidents

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Category: Toolkit for ATC - Stabilised Approach Stabilised Approach Awareness Toolkit for ATC


The Flight Safety Foundation established that unstabilised approaches were a causal factor in 66 % of 76 approach and landing accidents and incidents worldwide between 1984 and 1997.

It was found that many low and slow (low energy) approaches have resulted in controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) because of inadequate vertical position awareness. Low energy approaches may also result in "loss-of-control" or "land-short" events.

High energy approaches have resulted in runway excursions and also have contributed to inadequate situational awareness in some of CFIT accidents.

It was found that a crew’s inability to control the aircraft to the desired flight parameters (airspeed, altitude, rate of descent) was a major factor in 45 % of 76 approach-and-landing accidents and serious incidents.

Flight-handling difficulties have occurred in situations which included rushing approaches, attempts to comply with demanding ATC clearances, adverse weather conditions and improper use of automation.


Unstabilised approaches can be followed by:

  1. Runway excursions
  2. Landing short
  3. Controlled flight into terrain
  4. Hard landings
  5. Tail Strike

Contributory factors

Weather conditions or approach types which can increase the chances of an unstabilised approach are:

  1. wake turbulence
  2. strong winds
  3. low visibility
  4. heavy precipitation
  5. an approach with no visual references (e.g. night or IMC)
  6. visual approach
  7. circling approach

Aircraft Accidents and Incidents Related to Unstabilised Approach Listed on SKYbrary

  • A320, vicinity Tel Aviv Israel, 2012 (On 3 April 2012, the crew of an Air France Airbus A320 came close to loosing control of their aircraft after accepting, inadequately preparing for and comprehensively mismanaging it during an RNAV VISUAL approach at Tel Aviv and during the subsequent attempt at a missed approach. The Investigation identified significant issues with crew understanding of automation - especially in respect of both the use of FMS modes and operations with the AP off but the A/T on - and highlighted the inadequate provision by the aircraft operator of both procedures and pilot training for this type of approach.)
  • A320, Cochin India, 2011 (On 29 August 2011, a Gulf Air Airbus A320 deviated from the extended centreline of the landing runway below 200 feet aal but continued to a night touchdown which occurred on the edge of the 3400 metre runway and was followed by exit from the side onto soft ground before eventually coming to a stop adjacent to the runway about a third of the way along it. The subsequent investigation attributed the event to poor crew performance.)
  • A319, vicinity Zurich Switzerland, 2014 (On 17 October 2014, two recently type-qualified Airbus A319 pilots responded in a disorganised way after a sudden malfunction soon after take-off from Zurich required one engine to be shutdown. The return to land was flown manually and visually at an excessive airspeed and rate of descent with idle thrust on the remaining engine all the way to a touchdown which occurred without a landing clearance. The Investigation concluded that the poor performance of the pilots had been founded on a lack of prior analysis of the situation, poor CRM and non-compliance with system management and operational requirements.)
  • B744, Bangkok Thailand, 1999 (On 23 September 1999, a Boeing 747-400 being operated by Qantas on a scheduled passenger service from Sydney Australia to Bangkok overran Runway 21L during an attempted night landing in normal visibility and came to a halt substantially intact 320 metres beyond the runway end. There was no fire and a precautionary evacuation of the aircraft was not begun until 20 minutes after it came to rest. Only minor injuries were sustained by 38 of the 410 occupants, some during the initial runway excursion, others as a consequence of the evacuation. The aircraft remained substantially intact during the overrun although the nose landing gear and one main landing gear separated. The picture below, taken from the Official Accident Report, shows the aircraft in its final stopping position.)
  • RJ1H, vicinity Zurich Switzerland, 2011 (On 20 July 2011, the flight crew of a Swiss European Avro RJ-100 on a positioning flight from Nuremburg to Zurich responded inappropriately to an unexpected ‘bank angle’ alert in IMC. Near loss of control followed during which a PAN was eventually declared. The situation was resolved by a belated actioning of the QRH checklist applicable to the failure symptoms experienced. The subsequent investigation attributed the event to inappropriate crew response to a failure of a single IRU and poor manual flying skill whilst the situation was resolved.)
  • … further results

Stabilised Approach Awareness Toolkit for ATC

Further Reading


Part of the Stabilised Approach Awareness Toolkit for ATC