• Simultaneous landings or takeoffs at US airports are rare, despite the fact that the facilities required for them are quite common.
  • There are actually numerous airports in the US that have the facilities for simultaneous parallel landings, including Newark Liberty International Airport and Kansas City International Airport.
  • The reason for the rarity of parallel landings is that airports often prioritize one runway for takeoffs and another for arrivals, and staggered approaches are more commonly used to reduce air traffic control precautions.

Simultaneous landings or takeoffs, such as those that can be witnessed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), can be incredibly beautiful, especially for those onboard who witness another aircraft land right alongside them. Despite the fact that these events are rather marvelous to behold, they are surprisingly rare among US airports.

However, the facilities that are required for a simultaneous landing are actually rather common, as all an airport requires are two parallel runways separated by more than 4,300 feet. Furthermore, parallel takeoffs and landings can even be authorized with less than that separation distance under specific circumstances, such as if both aircraft are significantly smaller.

Despite this, simultaneous landings and takeoffs are actually rather rare, and many have only seen them at a few US airports. Therefore, which airports could permit these marvelous landings, and why are they not that common even when the appropriate facilities are available?

Potential airports

There are far more airports with the appropriate facilities for simultaneous parallel landings than one might expect. Examples of these airports include Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), where United Airlines maintains an operational hub, and Kansas City International Airport (MCI).

In fact, there are actually numerous airports that maintain the facilities for triple parallel landings in the United States. In fact, 23 different US airports can accommodate three aircraft approaching three runways simultaneously, some of which are rather small. Wichita Falls Regional Airport (SPS), a mixed-use facility operating military flights out of nearby Sheppard Air Force Base and scheduled commercial service from American Eagle, has three parallel runways capable of simultaneous landings.

Some airports can theoretically even accommodate more than three aircraft landing or taking off at once, including Denver International Airport (DEN) and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). Chicago-O'Hare International Airport (ORD) can even hypothetically permit six aircraft to land simultaneously, which would truly be a sight to behold.

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Why aren't there more parallel landings?

In most situations, when an airport has two runways, one is used for takeoffs and the other for arriving flights, which is far more efficient than utilizing both for both departing and landing flights. Thus, it's rather uncommon to see simultaneous arrivals even when airports do have multiple runways.

Furthermore, even if airports have more than two runways and use multiple runways for landings or takeoffs, aircraft are often guided onto staggered approaches, which require fewer air traffic control precautions to be taken via diagonal instead of horizontal aircraft separation. Only under very specific circumstances are parallel landings utilized.

Diagonal_separation (1)
Photo: FAA

One time in which simultaneous landings are optimal is when an airport is experiencing significant one-way traffic. For example, if an airport has a large influx of arriving flights and very few departing flights, it may make sense to utilize both runways for simultaneous approaches as is done in San Francisco during certain times of the day.

Furthermore, simultaneous landings are contingent upon optimal conditions, and everything from rain to wind to fog can affect whether these maneuvers can be attempted. At airports such as SFO, which rely at times on simultaneous approaches, suboptimal conditions can lead to airport delays.

Sources: SKYbrary, FAA