A Lufthansa crew has been in the news lately (link). They attempted to land an Airbus A320 at Hamburg in a strong gusty crosswind, failed to stabilize the approach, touched a wingtip, added power and went around for another try. Here are excerpts from some news stories: “pilots avert major crash”, “saved the lives of 131 passengers”, “The aircraft’s pilot, referred to simply as ‘Oliver A,’ has now been branded a ‘hero,’ for ensuring that the plane landed safely the second time around and for averting what could have very easily turned into a truly fatal disaster.”
Out of the hundreds of newspaper accounts of this incident, none mentioned the fact that nothing required the pilots to attempt to land at Hamburg in this huge windstorm in the first place. Hamburg has four runways. Nothing required the pilots to continue on the runway that they were approaching once they realized what a heavy crosswind was involved. Nothing required the pilots to continue the approach once they realized that they couldn’t keep the airplane stabilized on centerline and on glideslope. Had this been a light airplane, people would have said “Look at this idiot; he shouldn’t have continued to that airport once he received the weather; he shouldn’t have accepted that runway; he shouldn’t have continued the approach.” Take the same guy and add 131 passengers and now he is a hero.
Almost everything that happens in an airplane can be predicted 30 minutes prior. In developed non-mountainous countries the weather does not sneak up on a pilot. The prudent pilot uses superior judgment so that superior skill is never required.
[I am not putting myself above this Lufthansa pilot. I made an unnecessary landing in a heavy (for the kind of airplane that I was flying) gusty crosswind because my friend was late for his meeting and I didn’t want to divert to another airport where a landing would have been easy (full story). I don’t call myself a hero, though. I call myself an idiot who is lucky not to have scraped a wingtip.]