Is your runway too short??

What’s your definition of a short runway? Depends on a lot doesn’t it? I think it depends on the answer to 4 main questions, one of which most pilots don’t answer until after they’ve been hurt in an accident. I think we’re all familiar with the first three questions. What type of aircraft you’re .lying, your takeoff weight and, the density altitude of the departure area. I agree that a 2000 foot runway probably looks short to an airbus, but my Cessna 206 seems to enjoy it. During private pilot training, weight and performance charts are taught, to everyone. Anyone who is qualified to fly in the mountains (defined as having taken professional mountain training), understands how to use a Koch Chart and determine takeoff and climb rates.

So what’s the fourth question? What question would save lives if every pilot asked it before every takeoff? It’s simple. How much runway do you need to land back safely straight ahead after an engine failure at 200-300’ agl? After teaching for over 10 years, mostly in light GA singles, I’ve noticed a widespread fault in aeronautical decision- making(ADM). It’s part of get-there-itis. It’s pretty simple and very common. Pilots asking for a shorter runway by length or intersection and thereby cutting the safety margin they need in a low altitude emergency.

I know that asking for a shorter runway or an intersection takeoff closer to your school or parking is faster. I know it may be easier than taxiing to the full length. I know it may be easier on ATC to keep you on a non-airline runway. What I don’t know is what you will say to the FAA and NTSB when they ask, why after a low altitude accident with major damage and injuries you asked for a shorter runway.

Stop and imagine a catastrophic engine failure at 200 feet. Picture your family in the plane. What do you want to see in your front window? 3000 feet of runway remaining in front of you or, a bunch of buildings and poles with the safety of the runway behind you? I have never had ATC tell me no when I ask for the longer runway. They occasionally say it’s a longer taxi or that I will need to wait for a few minutes to take off, but compared to the safety benefit, that is a very low cost. Look at the picture below and see how a simulated engine failure at 200’ on a long runway gives plenty of room to land safely.


Anyone reading this article is a safe pilot. How do I know? Because if you weren’t interested in safety you wouldn’t be reading it! I hope you’re also open to three suggestions that will help keep your loved ones safe when they fly with you.

One, always ask for full length and if it agrees with the wind the longest runway available.

Two, treat every takeoff as a short field takeoff with holding the brakes and recommended flap settings.

Three, make at least every other landing a short field landing, it will keep you in practice.

In aviation the quicker way is usually not the safer way, remember a longer runway gives you a safety margin and that another five minutes in an airplane is better than five days in the hospital. I’m not saying that I have never taken a shorter runway. I’m just starting to think it’s not the safest decision. What do you think? Is there any safety to taking a shorter runway? Let me know and as always, Fly Safe!

Gary Reeves is a 7,000+ ATP, the 2016 FAA Instructor of the Year(WP Region), a lead rep for the FAA Safety Team, and a Master CFI. He is best known as a national public speaker on aviation safety for the volunteer group He also travels the US providing expert Avidyne, Garmin, and IFR training for


One thought on “Is your runway too short??

  1. Since assuming PIC duties over 46 years ago Gary, I have ALWAYS lived by the “three rules” of things that are of no use to pilot “fuel in the truck, altitude above you, and runway behind you.”

    Never been disappointed by them either!


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