Wild Weather and an Odd Missed Approach

Airborne Express, LGB - Long Beach, Operations

I’ve just survived what may possibly have been the first tornado warning I’ve ever endured living in LA. And yes, I grew up here. I’m not quite sure why they’d bother doing that because none of us have any clue what we’re supposed to do if there’s a tornado nearby. It’s not like we have basements here.

I swear I’m not just hear to tell you about the weather. I’m actually trying to figure something out, so hopefully someone can enlighten me.

The airports here have been operating in reverse configurations all day today (eg landing over the ocean and taking off over land at LAX). Here at home on the west side of Long Beach, that means we can see landings heading to runway 12 instead of the usual departures from runway 30. You know what? This isn’t going to make sense to 99% of you. Let me throw down a map here. We live west of the airport.

08_01_25 lgb

Anyway, I was out walking the dog a little after 530p when I saw an Airborne Express 767 fly overhead lined up for runway 7L. He throttled up and ended up going around before landing on 12. This seemed really odd to me, because I’ve never seen a large jet operate on those smaller runways. I’ve only seen them on 12/30. So, I went back and listened to the tower archives on liveatc.net to see what was going on.

Here’s the conversation that occurred:

ABX1753: Tower, Abex1753 Heavy, we’re trying to get on runway 12 here
LGB Tower: Abex1753, Long Beach Tower, runway 12 cleared to land
ABX1753: Cleared to land runway 12, Abex1753

Then a couple minutes later . . .

ABX1753: Are we cleared to land runway 12?
LGB Tower: Abex1753 Heavy, you’re lined up for runway 7L right now
ABX1753: Ok, we’d like to go around for 1753

Needless to say, the tower cleared him to execute a missed approach, and that’s what I saw. Now I’ll get to the point . . . how the heck does that happen?!? Shouldn’t an aircraft know with which runway it’s lined up? I mean, even a simple compass could tell you that you’re lined up at heading 070. Can someone explain this?

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10 comments on “Wild Weather and an Odd Missed Approach

  1. Wow..that doesn’t sound good at all. It’s almost like a mistake you’d expect from a student. This sounds like the result of too many auto coupled approaches and not enough “hand flying”

  2. Actually, I know this approach too (I grew up under the approach path for 7L).

    From where you are (I’m guessing you’re between Cherry and LB Blvd, north of Wardlow), the paths for 7L and 12 aren’t that far off one another. Add to that the fact that 30 is the only ILS approach (over Los Altos) and it means they were flying a WAAS approach to 12.

    If they were dutifully looking at their GPS screen and crabbing in the wind, they could have thought they were on course.

    For landing, 7L would have actually been OK (not ideal), as it can accommodate the landing weight of a B767-200 and the length is 6192 feet (the 767-200 needs about 5500 feet of dry runway to land fully loaded at sea level).

    I actually used to see them bring in DC-10s on 7L when I was a kid.

  3. Thank you, Richard M. I figured they could land on 7L if they wanted to, but I just hadn’t seen that happened since I’ve lived there. I’m sure it has to do with whiny neighbors and the fact that the airport has plenty of capacity to keep everyone on the nice long and wide runway 12/30.

  4. Tornado instructions for those of you without basements do either of the following:
    1. Find an inside room without windows and stay in it. Close the door behind you. Preferably below a table etc.
    2. Hop in the bathtub and put a mattress over the tub.

    Yeah, I lived in the midwest for too long… Now I just need to know the earthquake and windstorm procedures now that I’m in Seattle.. (Yeah, we get earthquakes here..)

  5. As a pilot for 35 years and currently flying for one of the large legacy carriers this is one of my bugaboos. I don’t mean to Monday morning quarterback as there are a lot of variables. But generally speaking, the average pilot with all of the most advanced avionics and even not so advanced will, when the opportunity presents itself, totally ignore every tool he has in the aircraft and go with his eyes. It never fails.

    In the 121 world we are required to use all available navigational tools and that includes using them all the way down to finding a runway. I don’t know what LGB 12 has but most aircraft have onboard equipment that will literally draw you a colored line to the runway. All you have to do is follow it and you never have to look outside! I rarely do. Look outside.

    If the runway has an ILS then you just line the needles up and when you are about a 1/2 mile or so from the runway then maybe you might want to casually glance outside just to see how pretty or ugly the day is. But you follow your instruments to the runway. It will take you there every time without fail. But I see almost all pilots turn all of that stuff off if they can see out the window and fly a “visual” approach. They almost always screw it up.

    They say that pilots will at one point land with the gear up or land at the wrong airport or on the wrong runway. In my 35 years I have never gotten close to doing that because I trust my instruments and not my eyes. That’s the first thing you learn when you learn how to fly instruments; disregard everything your body is telling you because it is and will continue to lie to you.

    I’ve had tremendous crabs into the wind where the intended runway of landing was out my side window but as long as my instruments were taking me to the runway I could care less where my nose is pointed because in an airplane the nose is rarely pointed in the direction you are actually going. All you have to do when you get close to the ground is kick in some rudder and opposite aileron so you can land going straight instead of sideways (Airbus is different, I know!). I have never understood why professional pilots have such a hard time with this concept. I’ll venture that there aren’t that many pilots that stare into the empty sky at 37 or 41000 feet but given all the tasty tidbits down at ground level it is an irresistible urge for most humans to do exactly the wrong thing. Pilots should know better for they are trained better.


  6. When I lived in LB in the 1990s (near the circle), I was a private pilot based out of LGB. (This was before JetBlue took over the place.) I can probably count on one hand how many times the airport was set up for “reverse operations”. You were more likely to land to the south (on 16 L or R) than to the east on 7. As I recall, to land on 12, you had to fly a somewhat goofy approach since the LAX Class B airspace wasn’t too far to the north.

    I also agree with Richard about the pilot probably having to crab or slip, causing his heading reading to be off. I’m happy that ATC caught the error. It used to be a training airport for the controllers and I had more than a few close calls thanks to the controller trainees clearing me onto a runway with other traffic already on it (or on the intersecting). You really have to be alert as a pilot there.

  7. Wow, mystery solved! I was driving south on the 405 near the intersection of the 405 and 110 freeways (several miles west of LGB) and witnessed this incident. I saw the wing and belly lights of a southbound heavy turning left for what appeared to be an eastbound final to LGB. In 30 years of a southbound commute on the 405 I had never seen that. My thought was that it was lined up with the runway that usually dispatches general aviation to the west over the freeway in normal weather conditions but I didn’t think about the runway length at the time. The A/C looked like it was established on final but then it became obvious that the descent had ceased and the A/C continued eastbound, out of view. Really strange at the time but now explained.

  8. As someone else mentioned, the visual cues that they were using are what probably set up their inevitable go-around.
    Runway 12/30 is the preferred runway for takeoff and landing for transport aircraft. Runway 30 is used almost always, unless the rare easterly winds prevent using it. When the opposing runway (12) is used, there is no traditional ILS approach that gives both left/right and up/down (lateral and vertical) guidance. Runway 12 has an instrument approach that curves to the final few miles to touchdown. If the weather was clear, this plane was probably just getting vectors from the local approach controller. The controller will usually hand tha plane over to the tower for a visual approach no later than 5 miles from landing.
    The approach end (the landing area) of runway 12 can get “lost in the clutter” of the surrounding buildings. Runway 7L happens to have less clutter and does appear more prominently at first contact visually.

    Runway 7L has no instrument system of any kind for landing.

    Visual approaches are very common. Transport crews are required to use, as a backup, an approach aid that will help guide them to the landing runway on these visual approaches. Since this crew was probably not flying over the same “track” as the 12 instrument approach, it could have given more confusion than assistance. The lack of any electronic guidance to a runway that doesn’t present itself visually very well, while another runway does, may have contributed to the go-around.

    They did the right thing. There are certain “stabilized variables” that must be met prior to landing (on-speed, no high descent rate, runway clear and acquired, etc). They didn’t meet them so they went around for a second successful landing.

    1. One thing I forgot to mention, I believe that runway 7L was recently repaved. A darker, rarely used runway does stand out more prominently.

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