Captain Becker, is a good landing necessarily a soft landing?
For us professionals, other criteria apply: The landing needs to be safe, and that has nothing to do with “soft.” The airplane should be landed in the touchdown zone, which has markings similar to zebra stripes – as passengers can occasionally observe from the window. If the landing is soft in good weather, all the better, but on a snow-covered runway, where there’s a risk of aquaplaning, or in high winds, the aircraft requires a harder touchdown to ensure swift contact with the ground so that the plane can brake. In other words, the first priority is to land safely, the second, softly.
Is it always the captain who lands the plane?
The captain is responsible for the safety of the flight, and so in difficult conditions – when there are heavy side winds or complex system failures – he or she is responsible for landing the plane. As a general rule, though, captain and co-pilot take turns, one flying out, say, the other back. That way, the co-pilot has the chance to gain the experience necessary to fly as a captain later on.
How do pilots practice landing?
Landing is learned almost exclusively in simulators. These days, the simulators are so like the real thing that the technique of landing an airplane safely really can be acquired there. There are some airports for which particular approaches need to be practiced, and they include Kathmandu, Nepal, and La Paz, Bolivia. The legendary but now no longer operational Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong was also a special case, where you had to fly a long right-hand curve almost until you touched down – a really exciting task for any pilot.