Industry Updatescorner

Why So Few Go-Arounds?Posted 4/13/2015

By JR Russell

I’m sure that most readers of ProActive’s Safety Letter are generally familiar with the data regarding stable verses unstable flight approaches. The vast majority of approaches flown—approximately 97 percent, in fact—are stable. So, the good news is, only 3% of all approaches are unstable. However, of that 3% that are unstable, only about 3% end up going around.

Considering that statistic, we all might ask, “Why are there so few go-arounds when they are clearly indicated?”

Through the years, there have been numerous studies related to the infrequency of go-arounds. They point to a lot of different factors contributing to the crews’ decision to continue unstable approaches when their SOP’s clearly state that a go-around is required.

In this Safety Letter, I’ll focus on three factors that have influenced my own decision-making regarding whether or not to perform a go-around. My hope is that, by doing so, I can increase your awareness of the issue and offer a few of the more predominant reasons influencing the go-around decision.

Three Factors that Influence My Go-Around Decisions

1. Continuation Bias

I’ll begin with a contributing factor called continuation bias, which is the unconscious cognitive prejudice to continue with an original plan despite changing conditions. Continuation bias might have the effect of hiding subtle cues—cues indicating that the original conditions and assumptions have changed.

Let’s face it: everybody wants to complete the mission as planned. We feel an obligation to do so, and a sense of failure when things don’t turn out as planned. It’s obvious that no one likes to fail, so this mindset might persuade some crews to continue an unstable approach, even when it’s clear that they shouldn’t. We need to alter that mindset. Continuing an unstable approach to a landing is the real failure in the process. The decision to go around from an unstable approach should be considered a successful strategy, not a failed one.

2. The Go-Around Profile

Another factor contributing to our predisposition to continue an unstable approach vs. going around is the go-around profile itself. I tend to feel “up-to-speed” on the go-around maneuver profile for a period of time immediately following recurrent training. After a couple of months, however, I become less confident of my familiarity with it, and that lack of familiarity tends to affect my decision-making process. I guess the moral to this part of the story is to do whatever you need to do in order to remain “up-to-speed” on the go-around profile. The technique that I have found to be the most effective is to verbally review the go-around profile each time I conduct an approach briefing.

3. The Fatigue Factor

The last factor I want to address is fatigue and its influence on our decision-making process. Oftentimes we’re performing an approach at the end of a long day or a long international flight. Fatigue not only affects our ability to think clearly, it also affects our judgment, and, therefore, our decision-making process. Much work has been done studying fatigue and its negative effects. Do what you can to manage your fatigue.

I’ve found over the years that most of my approaches are affected by at least two of the factors I’ve outlined, and, oftentimes, all three factors have come into play. It seems that I engage that “complete-the-mission” mindset for nearly every approach I fly. But I try to be mindful of it and not let it influence my decision-making process. That’s easier said than done, however.

Unless I’ve recently completed recurrent training, I really have to work at keeping the go-around profile fresh in my mind. The technique I described about reviewing the go-around maneuver each time I brief an approach helps me stay familiar with the maneuver and, therefore, more self-confident that I can fly a go-around without mucking it up. These days, because most of my flying is long-haul international flying, I feel the effects of fatigue on many of my approaches. I do try to rest and do other things to manage my fatigue, and some flights are better than others, but the factors that influence my decision-making process are always prevalent.

As I mentioned above, there are a number of contributing factors to the issue of not going around when we should. Hopefully, this Safety Letter will get you thinking about some of the more prevailing factors that contribute to your decision-making process as it pertains to the all-important go-around decision.