Descending too low on approach

SafetyWatch_icon_1.pngSafety concern

An increasing trend has been identified where pilots do not effectively manage their aircraft’s flightpath when unexpected events arise during the approach to land.

When compared to other phases of flight, the approach and landing has a substantially increased workload and is traditionally the phase of flight associated with the highest accident rate. Flight crews must continuously monitor aircraft and approach parameters, and the external environment, to ensure they maintain a stable approach profile and make appropriate decisions for a safe landing.

The selection of inappropriate autoflight modes, unexpected developments, or any confusion about roles or procedures can contribute to decisions and actions that increase the safety risk to the aircraft and its passengers.


What can you do?

Standard operating procedures ensure consistency of crew interaction and aircraft operation during an approach and landing phases of flight.

Make sure you are familiar with the procedures for the approach well ahead of time. If you have any concerns or observe any deviations from the briefed approach, communicate this to the other flight crew without hesitation. In addition, it is important for flight crews to be continuously aware of the aircraft’s active and armed auto-flight system modes, as well as continually monitoring the aircraft’s descent profile.

Good communication is vital. If there is any confusion or uncertainty, clarify the situation and take timely action to rectify any deviations before they become a problem.

If the criteria for safe continuation of an approach are not met, the flight crew should initiate a go-around as safety should be considered above all other priorities.

More information

A number of occurrences involving a descent below profile or a prescribed altitude during the approach to land have been investigated by the ATSB.

External references

  • The US Federal Aviation Administration has made available the final report of its Performance-based operations Aviation Rulemaking Committee/Commercial Aviation Safety Team Flight Deck Automation Working Group 2013. The report, Operational use of flight path management systems, provides recommendations to address the safety and efficiency of modern flight deck systems for flight path management.
Related: SafetyWatch
Last update 23 October 2017