The Scenic Tour Of LA Airspace

We live under the flight path for Burbank Airport, about fifteen miles out on the straight-in approach to Runway 8. In normal times, that means a few dozen 737’s a day coming from west to east at about 5,000′. Especially as a pilot, I know what’s normal.

Tonight I went out to look at the Christmas lights and get some air and there was a Southwest 737 going overhead from north to south. That’s odd. It could be that the winds had shifted and they were landing on Runway 33, but the winds weren’t blowing. Odd.

So I pulled out my phone, called up the FlightRadar24 app, and checked to see who it was above me. Southwest Airlines flight 605, from Phoenix to Burbank.

You can see where Burbank airport is (the pin just below and to the left of the “210” interstate icon, where the dashed black line going from the aircraft ends) and that green line shows the plane’s flight path.

This is not normal.

I called up the ATC Live app (Air Traffic Control) and started listening to the conversations between the plane and the Burbank tower. They were asking “how much fuel and how many souls onboard,” which is critical information in an emergency situation. It was obvious pretty quickly that they were having trouble with the flaps on the plane, couldn’t get them fully deployed, and weren’t going to be able to land at Burbank. With no flaps they would be landing fast and it would take a long time to slow down, so they needed a long runway. They headed off to LAX.

I followed the conversations through LAX Approach ATC and then LAX Tower. They cleared out some other traffic going into LAX, took a couple of opportunities to circle around a bit to buy time to slow down, and finally got down safely at LAX. There were some conversations about whether or not they might need to stay on the runway for an inspection (I’m sure their tires and brakes were really hot trying to slow down from a very fast landing) and whether or not they might have shed any debris (like from a broken flap or a burst tire) onto the runway, which would interfere with any planes landing behind them, but in the end it all turned out pretty well, all things considered.

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