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How do planes land in high winds like Storm Eunice?

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Storm Eunice is causing disruption at Heathrow and other airports in the South East as pilots struggle to land aircraft in high winds.

The Met Office has issued a red weather warning due to high winds for London and the South East until 5pm today, with Amber warnings continuing until tonight.

As of midday, British Airways has cancelled 43 departures from Heathrow, with more likely to follow.

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

What happens to flights when it’s too windy?

There are safety limits on when aircraft are allowed to take off and land during windy periods. These limits depend on the aircraft type, runway direction and general weather conditions.

A long haul captain with a European airline I spoke to said:

“Wind speed limits are primarily based on crosswind, which is wind that blows perpendicular to the runway. And it’s slightly different between aircraft types, and different airlines may apply lower limits than others, but not higher than manufacturers’ limits.

The runway direction at Heathrow is about 270 degrees, the wind direction today is forecast to be about 280 degrees, so there won’t be much of a crosswind. Today it will be about gusts and wind-shear, where the wind changes speed/direction quickly. That can be challenging and require diversions.

For crosswinds, most aircraft are limited to around 40 knots (46mph), including gusts. It will be the wind-shear most likely that will be the issue today.”

Go-arounds and diversions

If the weather exceeds wind speed limits during a landing attempt then the pilots must abort the landing and undertake was is called a ‘go-around’ – in other words, they must try again.

There has been no shortage of go-arounds this morning, as you can see on FlightRadar24:

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

If an aircraft fails to land three times in a row then it is diverted to an alternative airport. Fortunately, this is rare, although three British Airways flights have had to divert this morning including BA296 from Chicago which is going to Geneva:

BA296 diversion

Two other flights have been diverted to Stansted and Edinburgh.

Wind doesn’t just affect take-off and landing

It’s not just the actual flights that are affected by high winds. Airports also have maximum wind speeds for activities related to flights, including the use of jetbridges, and the towing and loading of aircraft.

The maximum wind speed for jet bridges at Heathrow Terminal 5 is between 41 and 54 knots – or 47 to 62 miles an hour. If the wind picks up any higher (which they are forecast to do) they can become unstable and potentially cause injury or damage.

High winds also prevent flights from being catered. Catering vehicles are pretty unstable at the best of times:

Chaos at Heathrow Airport as Storm Eunice rolls in

…. so it’s no wonder they can’t operate when it gets windy.


Storm Eunice is causing high levels of disruption at Heathrow and other airports in the South East, but fortunately airport operations are strictly regulated to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew.

That said, I hope airlines have stocked up on sick bags as I doubt these flights are going to be particularly enjoyable as they come into land today ….

Comments (61)

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  • Ziggy says:

    Why would a flight to LHR be diverted to GVA? Seems an odd choice.

    • Rhys says:

      The question on everyone’s mind…

      EDIT: apparently, it could be that Geneva is the closest airport not closed to diversions that is suitable for the 787-10’s requirements.

      • Kevin says:

        It would be very interesting to know the final destination of all PAX. I wonder are there a lot of Americans transiting onto Europe for Ski Holidays etc. Dublin would be closer and wasn’t closed. Qatar 787-8 landed at lunchtime.

      • Bagoly says:

        How high does a ‘plane go during a go-around?
        And so how many “level miles” of fuel does it use up?
        I see a 747 quoted at 19k litres from runway to cruising altitude and 19litres per mile.
        Go-around is presumably much lower, but after three, could they be short enough of fuel that they really, really need to land next time.
        Does Geneva have a funelling effect which makes it unlikely to suffer from cross winds?

        I think I would be more impressed if customer service was the driver: perhaps there are more (F/J) passengers connecting to a Geneva flight than anywhere else in Europe – saves BA paying compensation to them, but more importantly is less disruptive for those passengers!

        • The real Swiss Tony says:

          I doubt it. They would have to offload the bags of the passengers who wanted to get off, jump through all sorts of hoops in terms of who had the correct permissions to enter Switzerland etc. You know that there will be two passengers bound for Zurich, one of which will happily get the train across, the other who will want to be flown back to London, then the passenger headed to Lyon who doesn’t have the right visa to get into CH but is adamant that they must leave the plane.

          if there is a customer service component here, I’d wager it’s more likely to benefit what’s in the hold!

          • KK says:

            usually you cant get off
            why pick one airport and not another is usually based on how easy is it for recovery… and split their diversions apart.

          • Nick says:

            That aircraft actually ended up in Zurich, not Geneva, anyway.

        • SteveW says:

          When I was the captain and had to go around the last people I would speak to is anybody who is not aircrew or associated with ops. Can you really not see that the primary aim was to get down safely . These guys knew the forecast so they would have taken more fuel to cater for go around events. The UK and even Ireland was sh*t weather so go somewhere you are guaranteed to get in. Get over with the conspiracy theories please.

          • Dubious says:

            Well said.
            Even if there was a conspiracy…there is also the fact that BA would be unlikily to have the rights to operate a direct flight between the USA and Switzerland, whether passenger or cargo service.

  • Britbronco says:

    Big Jet Tv on YouTube.

    • stevenhp1987 says:

      Have this on in the background… Quite fascinating really!

    • BlueThroughCrimp says:

      It’s an interesting watch, although the commentator is a bit excitable!
      Think Kevin from the LAX live feed has nailed the comms for these broadcasts.

      • Panda Mick says:

        He’s a cross between a typical london football club supporter and a black cab driver 🙂

        The Pony stampede was interesting 🙂

  • The Lord says:

    So far in central London this storm is pathetic

  • dougzz99 says:

    Qatar A380 just got down on third attempt

    • ADS says:

      That was QR3 which needed three attempts

      However QR7 made it down on first attempt about an hour later

  • Biki says:

    I watched my wifes flight land on Big Jet TV. Only the one aborted landing and a bit of a twitch as landed! They’re still waiting for luggage 2 hours later and have been told that it’s too windy to open the hold.

  • ClaireF says:

    Oh **** we have genesis tickets for 1 months time. Concert postponed 3 times already hope they can sort this out in time

    • Doommonger says:

      Genesis, beloved of 70’s public schoolboys everywhere

      • SteveW says:

        And ex RAF and ex Virgin Atlantic and ex service children’s schools and ex engineering students and…….

  • BJ says:

    It was a lovely morning in Edinburgh until the rain arrived, I wonder if the Geneva-bound plane landed here by mistake.

  • BlueThroughCrimp says:

    Even my local newspaper is reporting on the winds, and carrying links to the Big Jet broadcast, and Flightradar24 tracks!

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