Flights Taking Off Toward Ocean or Mountain Incline

Q: A normal San Diego takeoff is toward the west, up over the ocean, but occasionally we take off toward the East, heading straight at the steep mountain incline just off the airport! Isn’t that dangerous?

Takeoff procedures are, to borrow a line from my soon-to-be-bestselling book, a lot more complicated than just gunning it and hoping you clear the hills. Climb gradient profiles, based on worst-case scenarios (i.e. engine failures during liftoff) are computed for every departure, specific not only to the airport, but to each individual runway, taking all obstructions into account, whether hills, mountains, skyscrapers, or broadcast towers. A plane’s weight shall not exceed what’s required to meet these performance prerequisites.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.