Landing on closed runway at uncontrolled field
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At my uncontrolled airport, the grass crosswind runway is “closed winter months and after heavy rains,” in the chart supplement (AFD of old).  If the crosswinds are very high and I as pilot in command determine landing on the open runway would present a safety of flight risk can I land on the closed runway, without declaring an emergency? There are 2 airports within a 12nm radius with crosswind runways.

What would the FAA and insurance company view should an incident occur?

3 Replies
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Hi Thomas,

You may have answered your own question with your statement about the two other airports being fairly close with crosswind runways. The FAA and insurance company probably won't look favorably on an accident/incident caused by a decision to land on a closed runway (that you know is closed) when there were acceptable alternatives relatively close and an absence of an emergency situation. 

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Thomas Nery: 
 

At my uncontrolled airport, the grass crosswind runway is “closed winter months and after heavy rains,” in the chart supplement (AFD of old).  If the crosswinds are very high and I as pilot in command determine landing on the open runway would present a safety of flight risk can I land on the closed runway, without declaring an emergency? 

You certainly CAN, but it might not be a very good idea.  Typically, unpaved runways are so labeled because they are too wet and therefore too soft under those conditions, and you risk a really bad result, like ripping off a gear strut or digging in and flipping.  You can also do some damage to the runway, tearing up the surface or leaving deep ruts – things airport management might find unacceptable, potentially charging you for any repairs needed to fix the runway surface.  See below for how your insurance company might react to a liability claim like that.

Declaring an emergency isn't really relevant unless you have no other airport at which you can safely land, and then you are inviting the FAA to start asking questions about how and why you put yourself in the position where the only way to land was on a closed, soft runway that was listed as “closed.” 

What would the FAA and insurance company view should an incident occur?

The FAA would likely ask the questions I mentioned above, with the potential to take administrative action (remedial action or warning notice) with the potential to charge you with violation of 91.13 (careless/reckless operation) and give you a month or two on the ground to reconsider the wisdom of your actions.  What your insurer would do would depend on what your insurance policy as about allowable landing surfaces.  I suspect many if not most policies prohibit landing on anything but an approved airport other than in an emergency.  And how you came to the conclusion that landing anywhere other than that closed runway would be likely to cause damage or injury, or otherwise not be possible, might be a difficult thing to explain to them.

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Since it's a grass runway, the airport management probably had the NOTAM issued to prevent damage to wet, soft grass and soil. I was based at a grass airport for 8 years and that was always an issue after a heavy rain or melting snow. My tail dragger's 31" tundra tires didn't leave any ruts even when it was wet but aircraft with smaller tires can dig ruts and create a hazard for other aircraft, not to mention being a maintenance problem for the airport. It's risky landing a nose wheel aircraft on a soft, soggy grass runway because the weight of the engine over the nose wheel makes it more likely to dig in. Nose wheel construction is not as rugged as a tail wheel airplane's main gear and is more likely to buckle and cause an expensive engine tear-down, propeller replacing repair job. Insurance companies usually include something in their policies that excludes claims resulting from violation of the FARs. If the airport hadn't issued a NOTAM, it would be a different story but with the runway being officially closed, you would be in violation if the landing was determined not to be an emergency.