Landing a plane is a complicated process. Pilots need to take a lot of factors into consideration during the final descent and landing process. That's the case even if autopilot is helping to bring the plane in. Pilot Mark Vanhoenacker wrote for the Telegraph that during each landing, there is a point when the pilot must decide whether to go through with the landing or go back up, circle around, and try again. It's such an important moment during the flight that some aircraft have an audio alert commanding the pilot to "Decide!" Talk about pressure, right?
Imagine how much more complicated those landing procedures are when you aren't the only pilot bringing a plane in at that moment. Air travel is getting so popular and so busy that many airports are now allowing two or more planes to land at the same time. The Federal Aviation Administration sets very specific safety requirements for allowing multiple planes to land simultaneously. Outside of the United States, those simultaneous landing requirements vary from country to country. If your next trip brings you to one of these six airports, there is a good chance you'll see another plane landing at the same time as yours.
San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California
In 2018, the Daily Mail published passenger video of two planes touching down simultaneously at San Francisco International Airport. It's not an uncommon sight at the airport, where skilled air traffic controllers guide two planes at the same time regularly. What makes SFO special, though, is that their runways are closer together than what you'd normally experience at other airports. Because of that, passengers can feel a little uneasy when they see another plane landing so close to their own. Pilots warn that it's just a trick of the eyes that make the planes look so close. In reality, there is plenty of distance between the planes for them to land safely.
Denver International Airport, Denver, Colorado
Denver International Airport is one of the biggest airports in the world, according to Airport Technology, and it has lots of room to grow. Future development of the airport could include another terminal and two more concourses. That will give it the capacity to serve up to 100 million passengers each year. For now, though, it will have to make do with an already-impressive six runways. Three of the runways have the required distance set by the FAA to allow for simultaneous landings even in bad weather. Thanks to that, and the fact that none of the runways cross each other, there are very few delays at the airport even when winter weather strikes.
O'Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago's airport has an incredible eight runways, so it's no surprise that they are able to land more than one plane at a time. They don't use all those runways at once, though. According to the FAA's Runway Utilization report for O'Hare, various runways open depending on which direction the wind is blowing. Several of the runways, including two used for east-west wind flow, are too close together to permit simultaneous landings. But with the airport's current improvement plan, there will be three parallel runways that can operate simultaneously. That will give the airport more passenger capacity. Some of those runways will operate primarily at night, though. That's because they are far enough away from residential housing that it's outside of the city's noise restrictions.
King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The King Abdulaziz International Airport saw 17.8 million passengers in 2010, according to Airport Technology. It's currently the third busiest airport in the kingdom, but its proximity to major Islamic holy sites means those numbers are going up. With several expansion projects in progress, the airport will be able to handle up to 80 million passengers a year by 2035. The airport currently has three parallel runways that are 2,146 meters apart, which means airports can both land and take off at the same time. Some of the passengers landing at the airport get the royal treatment, literally. The airport includes the Royal Terminal used only by the King of Saudi Arabia. The terminal has its own reception hall and press area.
Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Shanghai, China
According to Shanghai Airport, this busy international airport welcomes more than 80 million passengers each year. Those numbers mean it's the second busiest airport in China and the ninth busiest in the world. The airport has two terminal buildings with three parallel runways between them. There are currently two more runways under construction, which will further increase the airport's passenger capacity. Top China Travel reports there are 218 aircraft stands and 70 boarding bridges in the airport. That's plenty to take on all the passengers traveling both domestically and internationally. Sleeping in Airports warns arriving passengers that the facilities here are few and far between and expensive when you find them, though. So you may want to make this a quick layover when you do land.
Amsterdam Airport Schipol, Amsterdam, Netherlands
According to the airport's own website, Schipol welcomes more than 70 million passengers a year. Most of the time, all those passengers come in and leave on two of the airport's six runways. One runway handles the take-offs, and the other manages all the incoming aircraft. The other four may open depending on traffic and weather. Five of the runways are long enough to handle larger aircraft. A sixth, shorter one handles smaller craft such as private jets and helicopters. Schipol air traffic control and airport officials work to limit the number of runways in use as well as what times they are in use. That's due to both environmental concerns as well as noise restrictions placed on the airport by the government. Officials use forecasting reports every February to predict airport usage for the entire year. That helps them decide which runways will be open and when they'll use them. They even invite neighbors of the airport, stakeholders, and government officials to give their input.