Arriving at KPAE and landing with Jet Traffic – Fitting in Safely

With the advent of commercial airline traffic at KPAE, light airplane pilots may be encouraged to use 16L/34R primarily. However, when using 16R/34L they need to consider how to fit in for both safety of flight and convenience.

Thinking ahead is your best option, plus armed with a few facts about how airline traffic arrives:

  • Commercial jets all arrive on an IFR flight plan. Most private jets also do so.
  • This means ATC will normally vector them for straight in approach to the runway, intersecting the runway extension (ILS, Localizer, or RNAV/GPS heading) about 10 miles from the runway.
  • Most airline jets start their final approach around 140 KTS, that’s 2.3 NM/min.
  • Most light aircraft fly the final approach between 60-90 KTS, that’s 1.0-1.5 NM/min.
  • ATC needs to assure IFR traffic a safe separation on final to the runway threshold. Depending on the jet, that means if you are to be ahead of the jet, you need to be landing when the jet is about 3-4 miles behind you, so you can clear the runway before it is over the threshold. It’s very expensive for a commercial jet to go-around because a light aircraft is too close, so ATC tries to avoid the situation
George Futas

George Futas


Following are my recommendations based on my personal experiences flying light aircraft into LAX, SAN, HOU, PDX, BFI, and others with high volume of commercial jet traffic.

  • If VFR, contact the tower at 10 mi, not 5, when requesting a straight in approach.
  • Inform tower the best speed forward you can maintain – preferably 100-140 KTS. Tower may ask you to maintain a specific speed, and if you accept do so until within 1/4 mi of the runway.
  • Do not be lined up with the runway extension before tower approves straight in, otherwise you might have a hazardous surprise with other traffic already on approach.
  • If IFR, tell approach control when requesting a specific approach the best speed you can maintain on final approach.
  • If you fail to give tower/ATC your best speed option, they must expect you will fly final at a normal approach speed for your type of aircraft. Thus, for safety reasons you may be held outside the airport control zone until they see no potential conflict. That could be a while.
  • Keep your speed up on approach until close to the runway threshold and bleed off the speed over the runway before touchdown.
  • You have lots of runway at KPAE, so this is not the time to try to make the first turnoff. Look ahead and plan to land and use the high-speed mid-field turnoffs (A5 & A6).
  • Practice this type of approach at times when there is no jet traffic, and let the tower know what you are intending to do.

Once you’re proficient with this procedure, you can use it at virtually all major airports. Fly safe and enjoy using these additional skills.