Pilot explains crosswinds landing

Planes landing at Düsseldorf International Airport cope with crosswinds during a storm.

Story highlights

  • Video shows wobbly planes approaching the runway during crosswinds
  • It looks dramatic, but it's not really dangerous, pilot says
  • Many pilots actually say their best landings are in crosswinds, he says
Air travel is one of the safest ways to get around, but once in a while you see something that reminds you why so many people are phobic about getting into a flying metal tube.
Take an amazing video posted on YouTube recently, showing planes landing during strong crosswinds at Düsseldorf International Airport in Germany. The clip appears to have been shot during the wind storm Andrea, which battered the region last week.
One after another, the planes approach the runway sideways and wobbly on a seemingly precarious quest to touch the ground.
The genre is popular on YouTube, where thousands of videos show what one poster described as "a ballet with the wind."
Such landing conditions appear striking on video, but pilots deal with crosswinds all the time -- though rarely as severe as those in the clip, said Daniel Fahl, a captain for a major U.S. airline.
"It's not really dangerous. It just requires the utmost of your training to kick in," Fahl said.
"It does look dramatic, but that's just because the airplanes are so susceptible to the wind. But that's how they're designed. They're designed to be weather vanes that point into the wind."
Pilots let the plane "weather vane" into the wind while it's airborne but manipulate the controls just before touchdown so the aircraft is aligned with the center of the runway for the landing, Fahl said.
Passengers sitting in the back of the plane looking out their windows wouldn't even notice anything unusual, he added, but it's quite different for pilots.
"There've been some times on really, really strong wind days where as I'm landing, instead of looking out the front windows of the airplane, I'm actually looking somewhat out the side windows to see the runway because the airplane in flight is pointed into the wind, which may not be the center of the runway," Fahl said.
Many pilots actually say their best landings are in crosswinds because the maneuvers required during those conditions make for an easy, cushioned touchdown, he added.