Clear of the Active

If you’re about to land and it’s VFR weather, just how long do you have to wait before you own that runway? And if you’re about to take off, how soon can you start rolling? With runway incursions being in the spotlight lately, it’s a good time to look at separation standards for arriving and departing aircraft. At non-towered fields, it’s generally considered poor form, at best, if someone were to land before a preceding aircraft had cleared the runway. Where I come from at least, if someone pulled a stunt like that on our 4200-foot, single runway, they’d better have just become a glider or else be on fire. But when there’s a control tower on the field, everything changes.

At a towered field of course, you can’t land until ATC says so. You can’t even cross the threshold. Of course, once the preceding aircraft has taxied off the runway, you’ll usually hear ‘cleared to land.’ But between sunrise and sunset, a pilot flying a light single or a propeller-driven twin (under 12,500-lb) may be given permission to land behind an aircraft that is still on the runway provided that:

  • the pilot is landing behind another single that has already touched down
  • distances can be determined by landmarks or runway markings, and
  • the preceding aircraft is at least 3000 feet down the runway

If you’re the one flying the twin, and the preceding aircraft is another light twin — or even a single — the minimum distance becomes 4500 feet, which, in many cases, is an entire runway.

If you’re landing a single and the preceding aircraft (a single or a light twin) is a departure, it must:

  • have already crossed the departure end of the runway (airborne, hopefully), and
  • be 3000 feet from the landing threshold.

If you’re landing a twin, it’s 4500 feet, and if either of you is a high performance single (like a T-28) or large (over 12,500-lb) twin or a turbojet, it’s 6000 feet.

If there are intersecting runways involved, then you’re not supposed to cross the landing threshold until:

  1. the departing aircraft on the other runway has either passed the intersection, or otherwise turned to avoid possible conflict OR
  2. the aircraft landing on the other runway has taxied off of it or rolled out and advised the controller that they’ll hold short, OR
  3. if you’ve been told to land and hold short for an aircraft departing from the other runway and acknowledge it, that departing aircraft has been advised, you have no tailwind, it’s day VFR, both runways are clear and dry, and there are facility directives stating that the intersection may be utilized for LAHSO (land and hold short operations). Note: You can also inquire as to the distance between your threshold and the intersection in question … and probably should.

BOTTOM LINE: The PIC has the final word as to whether to accept or decline LAHSO. Know your short field approach technique, and be proficient at it. ALPA now rejects all takeoff and landing clearances when a general aviation pilot has been given a LAHSO instruction.