Do pilots ever intentionally takeoff or land downwind?

4 days ago

Is there a reason a pilot would takeoff downwind or land downwind? Is it legal to do this?

It's perfectly legal, but check the Chart Supplement (or AFD, or instrument approaches) to see if there are special exceptions for that airport.

If it is a non-towered airport and you aren't assigned a runway, you should of course try to use the prevailing runway that is already in use by other traffic in the pattern when it makes sense.

Some airports have obstructions in one direction of their runways that make it necessary (or safer) to always land or depart in a certain direction.

Some runways have a steep incline in one direction, making it preferable to land upslope and depart downslope. (For example Lukla, Nepal: YouTube)

It's also common for larger airports to have preferred directions for arrival or departures in order to keep the flight volume high, even when the wind prefers other runways.

However, that usually relates to operating with intentional crosswinds a

  • It's perfectly legal, but check the Chart Supplement (or AFD, or instrument approaches) to see if there are special exceptions for that airport.

    If it is a non-towered airport and you aren't assigned a runway, you should of course try to use the prevailing runway that is already in use by other traffic in the pattern when it makes sense.

    Some airports have obstructions in one direction of their runways that make it necessary (or safer) to always land or depart in a certain direction.

    Some runways have a steep incline in one direction, making it preferable to land upslope and depart downslope. (For example Lukla, Nepal: YouTube)

    It's also common for larger airports to have preferred directions for arrival or departures in order to keep the flight volume high, even when the wind prefers other runways.

    However, that usually relates to operating with intentional crosswinds at an airport that has parallel runways in a primary direction (allowing them to conduct more simultaneous fli

    4 days ago
  • Yes, aircraft do take-off and land downwind sometimes. During low wind conditions it is sometimes preferable to use a runway in the downwind direction for noise abatement reasons.

    During downwind landing the ground speed will be higher and therefore it takes more distance to stop the aircraft. This increases the risk of a runway excursion.

    During downwind departure a higher ground speed is needed to take-off and therefore a longer runway will be required. An other effect is that the climb-out angle is lower due to tailwind, lowering the obstacle clearance and increasing the risk of Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT).

    Commercial aircraft have limits one the amount of tailwind that is allowed on take-off and landing. For most aircraft it is 10 or 15 knots.

    For more information about the safety aspects of tailwind operations see this report by NLR.

    4 days ago
  • Landing downwind is often the only option when flying an instrument approach procedure to minimums (the lowest ceiling at which landing is permitted).

    Many airports only have approaches to one runway direction. In the event that the approach is required and circling is not possible, a straight-in downwind landing is the pilot's only option.

    For example, given an approach to runway 27 with winds of 8 knots at 080:

    Circling MDA | 1100 feet MSL

    Straight-in DA | 700 feet MSL

    Field elevation | 450 feet MSL

    If the clouds are below 1100 feet, a pilot would be unable to circle to the "correct" runway 09; they would have to land straight in to 27, which is a downwind landing.

    Given the aircraft I personally fly, I will avoid doing so and divert to an alternate if the tailwind is higher than 10 knots or the runway is shorter than 4500 feet. Tailwind landings are inherently riskier and I'd rather take the delay.

    4 days ago
  • Floatplane operators may occasionally choose to takeoff with a light tailwind when to do otherwise would mean bucking a strong river current. I live on Oregon's McKenzie River, and doing this when operating out of Leaburg Lake (actually just a wide spot in the river) many years ago in a J3 on floats with only 85 horsepower made such takeoffs easier.

    4 days ago
  • In the case of motorless flight (preferrably intentionally, i.e. with a glider) the choice of landing direction for an outlanding is very strongly influenced by the terrain. Of course it is much preferrable to land with headwind, but in uneven terrain this can be impossible. In sloping terrain, it can be better (or compulsory) to land into direction of the steepest rise.

    The same thing also can be the case for landing or (reversed) for takeoff on airports with very pronounced runway slopes (mostly in mountaineous terrain, e.g. in Courchevel), or glacier landings.

    In some cases, it is simply convenient to land downwind, again esp. for motorless aircraft to reduce the distance to the hangar - conditions permitting, of course.

    4 days ago
  • I fly small Cessna aircraft, but frequently fly out of airports with 10,000 ft. runways. (A C-172 typically needs around 1,500 ft).

    So when its more convenient for me, I can ask the Tower for an "Opposite Direction Departure", meaning that I want to take off with the wind.

    It does take me a little more time to get my airspeed up and take off, but so long as I have plenty of runway in front of me, its not a problem. And it generally means I can take off more directly towards my course, instead of taking off, flying a pattern around the airport, then getting on course.

    4 days ago
  • When I flew light airplanes in Alaska there were a few one-way-in-one-way-out strips that I would take the tailwind before departing. Very common in some parts of the world.

    4 days ago
  • Sometimes the sun is setting directly over the end of the runway with the headwind. Definitely a challenge, and it is a wise decision to land in the other direction unless the tailwind isn't too strong. If it's a controlled airport, you have to get a clearance for that of course.

    4 days ago
  • Commercial passenger operations flying under Part 121 will have an FAA approved OpSpec (Operating Specifications) that will specify the maximum tail wind component for landing. If the wind is above that, the pilot must land the other way or find a different runway, or risk disciplinary action by his company.

    4 days ago
  • A good answer would be, "Yes, when operational constraints dictate." A pilot needs to consider the risks when deviating from standard operating procedures and practices. There are reasons airplanes take off into the wind, and they are the same reasons birds takeoff into the wind. Consider that birds have been flying a very long time. As far as I am aware it is not illegal to takeoff downwind within the stipulations of the regulations as noted elsewhere. One can declare an emergency if necessary.

    I had over 300 landings on the USS Nimitz and only one was downwind. At home, ashore, I remember only a few hairy crosswind approaches, but no significant downwind approaches.

    The carrier often augmented, or made its own wind over the deck. The approach speeds of fighter jets are pretty high. The A7-E came in at around 120 to 140 knots, if my memory serves me correctly. The headwind made approaches safer.

    During flight operations in the Mediterranean 2 of my comrades had a midair collision

    4 days ago