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If Your Brakes Failed On Landing Rollout, Would You Perform A Go-Around?

As you apply brake pressure, your toes hit the floor. Your brakes have failed and you have to decide whether or not you'll go-around or continue the rollout. What would you do?

The Scenario

You touch down in your single-engine piston airplane, and as you apply brakes, there's no feedback. Your toes push the pedals forward with no resistance. No brake pressure is felt and you don't slow down at all. You have to decide if you'll perform a go-around or continue with the landing roll.

The runway is long enough for a normal landing with brakes, but you're not so sure there's enough room to coast to a stop at this point.


Option 1: Perform A Go-Around

Performing a go-around will do a few things for you. It may give you time to troubleshoot the system failure and run through any available checklists. You'll also have time to evaluate if you have enough fuel to fly to a nearby airport with a longer runway. If you're not already at an airport with fire/rescue services, ask local ATC for a vector towards one.

After you go-around, plan to land fully configured for maximum aerodynamic drag. Aim to touch down just past the beginning of the pavement to give yourself the most stopping distance possible.

Once you touch down, you want to use maximum aerodynamic braking. After you touch down, slowly start pulling back on the yoke, being careful not to lift back off. As you increase your aerodynamic braking, you keep more weight on your main gear. If your brakes were working, you'd make them more effective because you can apply more brake pressure before your wheels lock up.

Even without brakes, you'll add more weight on the wheels by holding the yoke back, which increases friction. You'll also increase parasite drag with your elevator/stabilator.

Declare An Emergency With ATC

The FAA defines an emergency as "a distress or an urgency situation." According to the Air Traffic Control guide, "a pilot who encounters a distress condition should declare an emergency by beginning the initial communication with the word 'Mayday,' preferably repeated three times. For an Urgency condition, the word 'Pan-Pan' should be used in the same manner." Unless you're low on fuel, you'll likely fall under the "urgency" criteria after performing a go-around with failed brakes.

A Pan-Pan call should be used for urgent situations that are not immediately life threatening, but require assistance from someone on the ground. Pan-Pan urgency calls are only trumped by distress calls of "Mayday" in terms of priority.


Once a pilot has declared an emergency, a chain of events is initiated by ATC. If necessary, controllers will assist the pilot in finding a suitable airport for landing, and begin coordinating with the control facility for that airport. They'll contact the tower as early as possible so that they can prepare for the emergency landing. Information transmitted includes: type of aircraft, tail number, nature of the emergency, fuel onboard, and souls onboard.

When no airport fire/rescue services are available, ATC will coordinate with local emergency response to get as much assistance available as possible. This is true for both emergency landings on-airport and off-airport. All of this is done in the background without you needing to ask.

Option 2: Stay On The Ground To Avoid The Go-Around

If you decide not to go-around, and you stay on the runway with your failed brakes, there is one advantage: you eliminate the risk of not having enough room to successfully go-around and get airborne again.

If you're short on runway and you're concerned about not having enough room to take off again, it's likely better to risk going off the end of the runway at 15 KTS, as opposed to 60 KTS as you're trying to get airborne.

What Would You Do?

In this situation, going around seems like the best idea. In reality, you'd only have seconds to make this decision. So what would you do? How would you handle this emergency? Tell us in the comments below.

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