Air Transport World

To abort, or not to abort. (airline takeoffs)

The cockpit of an airplane taking off is no place for the indecisive. The decision to continue or abort a takeoff must be made in seconds and the penalty for a wrong call can be lives lost and an aircraft destroyed. The 1982 crash of an Air Florida 737 in Washington, D.C. is an example of a failure to abort. On the other hand, more than 400 fatalities have resulted from accidents in which a jet transport ran off a runway following a rejected takeoff (RTO), according to The Boeing Co.

Based on the past rate of RTO mishaps and the current levels of flight operations, Boeing expects five RTO accidents and serious incidents worldwide this year.

RTO accidents can be combatted with three general approaches: Adjust rules governing takeoff limits and runway length to give pilots as much decision time as possible; install new cockpit equipment to aid in the decision; improve pilot training. The three are not mutually exclusive. Efforts are under way in each of the areas. But conflicts do exist about where the emphasis should be placed. Rule making. If a problem develops early in a takeoff roll, pilots can abort easily and bring the airplane to a stop. With each passing second in a takeoff, however, speed increases and runway diminishes. The airplane eventually reaches a point at which it is going too fast to stop in time.

An airplane's manufacturer is required to determine its "accelerate-stop distance" under varying conditions. That is the distance required to accelerate the airplane to a target velocity, known as V(1), then bring it to a stop. The aircraft operator's responsibility is to keep that distance within the available runway length. …

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