Similarities between approaches to DCA and SFO

If you look at them side by side, you can see the similarities between the approach to Reagan National Airport and the one to San Francisco Airport. Longtime pilot Kevin Hiatt agrees that they’re alike in many ways.

“You're coming in over water,” he says, describing the landings from the viewpoint of a pilot. “You're actually crossing over a bridge down here which is the Woodrow Wilson."

Hiatt has flown into both airports and says the water approach doesn’t necessarily make the landing more difficult at SFO. Reagan’s approach from the north is actually much more challenging.

“You’re doing a pretty good maneuver with the aircraft in the very final stages of flight, and obviously the big thing you want to do is be stable with that approach,” he says.

To keep the plane stable, pilots fly over sensors on approach to maintain the proper direction, altitude, and airspeed. The uniquely-named waypoint on one approach to Reagan reads: “We will never forget September 11.”

The waypoints are supposed to position the plane for landing, but as animation shows in the video above, the San Francisco plane was traveling well below its target touchdown speed of 158 MPH, landing tail first.

A crash of this magnitude may keep some worried air travelers grounded, but not passenger Debbie Ardourel. She is already counting on a safe landing back home in Colorado.

I think about it, but it doesn't keep me from flying on a plane,” she says. “If you saw a car crash would it keep you from getting in a car? So just don't think about it.”