High Approach vs Low Approach Landing

High Approach versus Low Approach Landing? Which is safer? which of the 2 will I use?

When I first flew an airplane, I did not mind whether my approach in landing would be High or Low. All I was aiming was to land the aircraft graciously so I could impress my Instructor Pilot (IP). Although these two approaches were taught to me in theory during my ground phase, I did not fully appreciate the difference between such methods because back on my mind, my First Pilot or Pilot-in-Command(or PIC) will always be there to correct my approach.

After about 150 hrs as co-pilot in Cessna 152 and Britten Norman Islander or BNI for short, I was recommended for another training, this time as First Pilot of BNI, the same training my PICs underwent and which will soon put me to helm of deciding what to choose or what to teach my co-pilot, High or Low approach. After my evaluation, my training started.

Early in the course of my schooling, my IP asked me what to do in case you have a short runway, “High or Low Approach?” I said “high approach.” After elaborating and explaining why I choose high approach, my IP said, ‘”NO, you’re wrong!” He pointed out two major reasons. First, you will utilize more runway during landing and second, its too risky. He said that if you approach high, your break-off glide will be higher than normal to safely arrest your rate of descent. As a result, you will consume much runway before you totally level off and eventually land. He further explained that high approach would require low power settings for you to maintain the required approach speed. When you have low power settings, especially at low altitudes, you are at risk to wind such as gusts and/or shear. And if you have wind shear or gusts during your landing, this could probably drop your altitude quickly. If this happens during your break off or level off, your aircraft will surely strike the runway. You’d be lucky if you’ll only have broken landing gears. He pointed out further that in low approach, you have a low angle of attack thus requiring you higher power settings. With this, you can break your glide at a lower altitude providing you lesser level-off-run before touchdown, and upon touchdown, you chop your power. The setting from high to point blank(idle) power will result to an eventual decrease in your airspeed. In short, the sudden loss of power is the main factor to stop your aircraft during low approach.

My IPs explanation was logical enough to many, i guess (especially most pilots in our school believe in that thought). However, I do not agree with them 100%. In spite the fact that I incurred only 100 flying hours as First Pilot, I still believe that High approach is better on shortfield landings. I took this idea from a bird that actually makes its landing. I often observe that a bird approaching high for landing halts almost at their touchdown point compared to a bird that approaches low, which often lead to few more steps. This in fact is same as aircraft. Try to compare the rate of decrease on your airspeed on high approach and low approach. You will notice that speed rapidly decreases on break-off during high approach rather than low approach. This is primarily because in low approach you expose less airfoil while high approach exposes much airfoil leading to greater drag(only during break-off). As a result, your airspeed bleeds faster. This is an advantage in short airfield landing. Since, your aim is to put the aircraft into halt immediately, and you can only do that if you decrease you airspeed, it is but valid to approach high on shortfields since this drops your speed much faster than in low approach. In logic, you will take advantage of your airfoil by using it as your brake. This will give you shorter landing rolls than low approach.

Nonetheless, I will never discredit my IP in his second reason, SAFETY. Even if I explained my side, I always remind myself not to do such approach when wind is high. Such maneuver is only good during calm conditions, unless of course your experienced enough to safely arrest abrupt drops during gusty winds. Again, always bear in mind, “SAFETY IS PARAMOUNT AT ALL TIMES.”

Posted under Aviation by brix on Tuesday 17 June 2008 at 12:27 pm


  1. Comment by shark — November 28, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    nice like your way of discussing both. i was advised not to make draggish low approaches, becuase the back side of the graph may stall out the aircraft even if you have high power settings but if we take the case of stopping in short distance then the key is low approach. you can plan the touch down where ever you wish by this i mean juss entering the runway.

  2. Comment by brix — December 1, 2010 @ 6:22 am

    tnx. I already incurred a thousand flying time as of now and had been doing slightly high approaches for short field landings. It pays better than low approaches. however, i had been teaching my students both approaches.

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