Descent and Landing

The flight is nearing its end, and those who are afraid of flying may already start feeling better. But the phase of Descent and Landing includes some stages that may cause more fear unless you know what these stages are – knowledge is power!

Descent and Landing – what’s in it?

Here are some things you may not know about descent and landing in a passenger plane.

1. On a plane cruising at an altitude of about twelve kilometers, or thirty-six thousand feet, the descent process begins about half an hour before the touchdown.

2. From this stage on, the plane is mostly gliding and almost does not use the power of its engines. This is the most economical, fuel-efficient way to complete this flight segment. The plane glides about two hundred kilometers.

For those who are afraid of flying (See Laura’s commet on the picture) the sudden silence from the engines, with the slight change of the aircraft attitude – down, may cause more fear. Expect this to happen – and you won’t be scared.

Laura Miller, her daughter Abbey and how descent and landing started her Fear of Flights
Laura Miller, her daughter Abbey and how descent and landing started her Fear of Flights

3. How can we estimate the distance the plane will be able to pass while gliding, depending on the altitude of the flight? Multiply the flight altitude in thousands of feet by 3. The result is the distance in Nautical Miles (a foot is about 30 centimeters long and a Nautical Mile is about 1.8 kilometers). Example: From 36,000 feet the plane will glide about 108 nautical miles, which are close to 200 kilometers. Pretty impressive Descent and Landing phase…

4. During the descent, while crossing 10,000 feet (about three-kilometers), several processes take place: the flight attendants get a signal from the cockpit, which is a sign that there are about ten minutes left until landing. This information is important to them in order to complete the preparations for landing, sitting and fasten their seatbelts.

5. Except in exceptional cases, the aircraft will slow its flight speed below 10,000 feet. This slowdown has two main objectives: first, to reduce the noise of the aircraft in favor of the quality of life of the inhabitants, and the second – to improve the protection from birds (see a separate article on birds and aviation)


6. Most passenger planes touch the ground at a speed of about 150 knots, which is about 270 Kilometers per hour (quite similar to the speed of liftoff at takeoff)

7. Once the ground is touched, the brakes on the wheels are automatically activated. The braking power is defined by the pilots, who can intervene at any stage and stop the plane using the pedals. The automatic braking also saves runway length, since it starts at the moment of touching the ground, and is precise and allows for an adequate use of brakes.

8. In order to improve the deceleration, especially in wet runways or in a snowy environment, the pilots can use the reverse thrust of the engines. This is an effective technique, but not required when landing on a long dry runway.

By Pieter van Marion from Netherlands
Thrust reverser – Photo by Pieter van Marion from the Netherlands

9. Most passenger aircraft are equipped with an autopilot system that allows landing without the pilots’ intervention, but with their very close monitoring. The autopilot system will be explained in another article.

Descent and Landing … and Going Around

Of course, I have something to say about “going around,” which is the maneuver of stopping the process of landing and climbing for another approach, but this is in another article (click to read)

Descent and Landing is the last and somehow calmer part of the flight – enjoy it.

Want to know more? Contact me and we’ll discuss it.

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