Factors that “Flip” Landings at San Diego Airport – When Take-Offs Are Reversed and Go East

by on April 30, 2013 · 11 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

airplane taking off underbelly

Originally posted on April 30, 2013

Every OBcean knows – as well as every Point Loman and anyone who lives just west of San Diego’s airport – about plane take-offs.

They usually go right over the Peninsula. And have for years.  I grew up on Point Loma and went to Point Loma High School and clearly remember many classroom instructions being interrupted by the low-flying giant aircraft directly overhead or slightly over.  People in OB call it “the OB Pause” – when all conversation or listening is muted by the roar of aircraft engines over your head.

Sometimes, as we also know, the take-offs are reversed – usually when the weather gets bad or visibility drops.  Now, we have some actual figures.  According to an article today in U-T San Diego by Robert Krier, the westward take-off, the typical flight direction, makes of 95.4% of the take-offs. Whew! That’s a lot of take-offs.

Lindbergh Field weather observers – humans – in conjunction with a modern computer weather monitoring system – determine when the airport is “flipped” – that is, when the take-offs and landings are reversed.  There are factors that they observe and consider, such as:

  • visibility drops below two miles or
  • the ceiling drops below 700 feet
  • if fog ceiling is less than 700 feet and visibility is less than 1 mile, then it’s a double-flip – planes land from and depart to the west
  • (if tail winds exceed 10 mph)

If visibility gets down to a mile or less and the ceiling is 300 or 400 feet, then the airport shuts down.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

judi curry April 30, 2013 at 6:35 pm

When I was actively fighting the airport in Pt. Loma, I was astounded by the number of “missed approaches” that occurred daily. I have not kept up with stats, but suffice it to say that nothing is more scary than to see those planes diverted over Pt. Loma, engines roaring, as they try to gain altitude from their missed landing. And when the weather changes and the “missed approaches” go over Sunset Cliffs, you know that a “duck and cover” will not work as the landing wheels part your hair! (By the way – I still am fighting the airport – just not as vocally.)


John May 2, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Is a go around any more risk than a takeoff? I don’t think so, if anything it’s safer to have an aircraft that’s been operating for a couple of hours or more powering up gaining altitude than one that’s just warming up after an unknown period parked on the ramp.
It’s safe to say that, at least compared to a couple of decades ago, the noise issue is a complete non starter. Not only are newer planes much quieter, they have higher performance, meaning increased climb rates so can be at higher altitudes.
757’s are virtual hot rods compared to what they were running 25 years ago. There are fewer and fewer loud jets operating every year as they’re phased out.
Additionally the bad economy and overall reduction in traffic since 9/11 have really put a damper on operations at every airport.
If I have a general idea of where you live you must have had a hell of a racket going on back in the ’80’s when the wide bodies roared over.


judi curry May 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

You are right, John . That is one of the reasons I am not as active as I used to be because the noise has abated somewhat. However, I was at Starbucks on Rosecrans yesterday and the aircraft noise was deafening. The date I was with suggested that the noise was not from Lindbergh – even though we were so close – but rather from North Island. And no matter how quiet the planes are – when it’s a missed approach and going over our house – which is not in the fly zone – it scares the hell out of me.


John May 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm

The way these things go, keep your cell phone or camera ready to film a potential crash at any moment as if your life depended upon the money you’d get selling the footage to the media. This virtually ensures it will never happen. :-)


Steve Cramsie November 9, 2016 at 5:28 pm

What does “fighting the airport” “entail exactly? It’s been there since 1927, surely you moved there after that so why would you be against something that was there before you?


OB Dude November 10, 2016 at 1:35 am

If you asked this question, you’d never understand the answer.


Wireless Mike May 1, 2013 at 8:05 pm

This is how a private pilot once explained it to me:

When planes land or take off, it is best to fly into the wind, this gives them more lift and control at a lower ground speed. The prevailing winds at Lindbergh are out of the west, so it is preferred to land and take off toward the west. That is the normal way at Lindbergh field.

During a Santa Ana condition, winds come out of the east, so planes at Lindbergh land and take off toward the east, into the wind, and land over Point Loma.

In clear weather, pilots can see the runway and land visually. This is called VFR or Visual Flight Rules. In low clouds or fog, pilots must rely on radio navigation systems to land. This is called IFR or Instrument Flight Rules. The radio navigation system used is called ILS or Instrument Landing System. For planes approaching Lindbergh from the east, those ILS signals are blocked by the hills around Laurel Street and Balboa Park. That makes the radio navigation system unusable for planes approaching from the east. Planes approaching from the west, on the other hand, can receive a clear ILS signal over the top of Point Loma. For that reason, planes land over Point Loma when there is fog or low clouds obstructing visibility at Lindbergh Field.

These are two of the reasons that “flip” the airport landings at Lindbergh, as explained to me.


gailpowell May 2, 2013 at 7:29 pm

When take-offs & landings are reversed, a great place to watch these planes come in very low is over at Liberty Station. Near the Ace Hardware store, there is a park area across the street where you can see the mounted strobe lights in the Bay blinking and guiding the big jets into Lindbergh Field. Great story, Frank.



Heli Pilot May 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm

There are instrument approaches that can be flown in from the East since every commercial flight is flown under IFR. Even if they can see the runway the autopilot flies the approach procedure by following a radio beam or GPS. There are at least two published approaches for each landing direction.

The real reason they flip is that they don’t want a plane to go into one of the buildings downtown. So they land with a tailwind in the fog.


GR August 15, 2015 at 6:33 pm

I grew up at LomaPalisades and vividly remember 707s, DC 8s, 727s, 737s-all with the really loud low bypass engines back in the 70’s. I remember at Barnard School, the teacher would have to stop class about every 10 minutes until the planes would fly by. Some of you out there reading this know exactly what Im describing here. Like to hear from you. God Bless!


editordude December 30, 2015 at 8:49 pm

We reposted this 2013 article because -for some reason – it was receiving 1oo’s of hits.


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