Can I land at that airport?
Updated: May 24, 2020
Have you ever wondered what you need to consider before an airplane can operate at an airport?
It is said that all airports look alike. This is somehow correct, but definitely, there are several items you need to look at, before planning an operation on it. Also, depending on the type of operation.
You have been asked to study a new route and you need to decide whether it is possible to land and take off in that new airport. There are many other elements to study before a new route can be operated, but sure, the departure/destination airport is a main one.
Let's have a look at them.
The required runway width and length won't be the same for a B747 or a Falcon 8. Each aircraft has a minimum runway width. Required length should be enough to permit a landing and take off in unfavourable conditions, allowing to carry the required payload.
Airport altitude will affect your take off and landing capability. The higher the airport, the less weight you will be able to carry.
Engine out procedures are required and the operator is responsible for them. You better have one of these procedures in case an engine fails during take off and there is high terrain around.
Even though all your engines are running, nothing guarantees you have enough power to achieve the required Climb gradient carrying an aircraft full of passengers on a hot summer day. This can restrict your options on departure.
Runway and Apron Pavement
Pavement Classification Number (PCN) is provided for runways and aprons. This number defines the strength of pavement and it must be compared with the Aircraft Classification Number (ACN). As long as the ACN is lower than the PCN, you are good to go. Otherwise you may end up breaking some tiles.
As you would be arriving the airport, you would like to have an approach or landing procedure to make it to the ground. You need to make sure the airport has procedures that your aircraft and crew can operate. For instance, if only satellite based approaches are available and your crew is not approved to use them, or your aircraft is not properly equipped, you will not make it.
Rescue and Fire Fighting
Contingencies need to be covered. In case the aircraft is caught on fire, the required extinguishing capacity must be there. Again, not the same number of firemen and trucks are required to extinguish a fire on an A380 or a Cessna 172.
Hours of operation
Not everything is always open. Some airports are H24, some others are only open during office or daylight hours. Others may have a night curfew, or maybe they are open but there is no customs. Or, there is a specific noise restriction for your aircraft type. Or maybe, all restrictions at the same time. There is a wide variety of possibilities that can make your schedule not feasible.
You have managed to get to the airport. You will need some services before leaving: Fuel, handling, cleaning, maintenance, Air Traffic Services, customs or a meteorological office.
There is always some uncertainity when operating to a new airport. Crews will not be familiar with it. Considering elements as the surrounding terrain, the local weather, noise abatement procedures, speed restrictions or departure/arrival procedures is always an asset.
Last but not least, it is always a good option to have alternate airports around your destination. You may end up there in case you cannot land due to any unforeseen reason. These alternates must within a given range from your destination, otherwise you would be operating at an isolated aerodrome, but that is another story, actually a campfire story.
This list covers the main elements to study, but is not limited. Some other elements can be considered.
Once your airport fulfills the criteria, it can be considered as Authorized. But,...authorized for which kind of operation?
Requirements are not the same (for the same aerodrome) if we are planning to use it as a Destination, or a Destination Alternate, or an En-route Alternate, or an Escape Airport, or a Take off Alternate, or an ETOPS Alternate.
Just as an example, the required Rescue and Fire Fighting Category varies depending on the type of operation. You can find yourself with an airport you can use for an emergency diversion, but where you cannot land on a scheduled flight.
But, that will be part of the next Campfire stories release.