You are on page 1of 7

UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

BACKGROUND
On 11 November 2007, A Bombardier Global 5000 (registration C-GXPR, serial number 9211), operated by Jetport Inc., departed Hamilton, Ontario, for Fox Harbour, Nova
Scotia, with two crew members and eight passengers on board. At approximately 1434 Atlantic standard time, the aircraft touched down seven feet short of Runway 33 at the
Fox Harbour aerodrome. The main landing gear was damaged when it struck the edge of the runway, and directional control was lost when the right main landing gear
collapsed. The aircraft departed the right side of the runway and came to a stop 1000 feet from the initial touchdown point. All occupants evacuated the aircraft. One crew
member and one passenger suffered serious injuries; the other eight occupants suffered minor injuries. The aircraft sustained major structural damage.

Two of the primary causes leading to this incident were:


1. Because aircraft EWH information is not readily available to pilots, crews may continue to conduct approaches with an aircraft mismatched to the visual glide slope
indicator (VGSI) system, increasing the risk of a reduced TCH safety margin.
2. Due to limited knowledge of the various VGSI systems in operation and their limitations, flight crews will continue to follow visual guidance that might not provide
for safe TCH.

Routine flight data analysis, experience on line and during simulator sessions show pilots correcting for PAPI indications on short finals leading to unstabilization of
approach. This has led to hard landings, long flares etc.

PAPI LIMITATIONS

All PAPIs are calibrated for a certain MEHT (Minimum Eye Height over Threshold). The MEHT is defined as “The minimum height of the aircraft cockpit over the threshold
when the aircraft glideslope indicator is showing an on-slope indication.”

The MEHT is composed of two values: the EWH [the eye to wheel height] plus the WTH [wheel to threshold height]. It is to be noted that both values are for the aircraft in
the approach configuration and are not the dimensions as may be measured for a parked aircraft resting on the ground.

1|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

The Eye to wheel Height primarily depends on the following:


 Type of aircraft
 Glide path angle
 Flap setting
 CG/Approach Speed etc.

Let’s look at some representative values computed for:


 Standard glidepath angle θ of 3 degrees
 Maximum landing weight
 VREF + 5kts
 Configuration Full
 CG 30%

This means there can be a considerable variation between the Eye path to wheel path (H1) of B747-8F (42.2’/12.87M) to that of an A320-200 (22.5’/6.84M).

2|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

To understand how the MEHT is chosen, we have to refer to the ICAO Annex 14, table 5-2:

Thus, it is clear that since the MEHT selected for the PAPI would depend on the most demanding airplane operating to the airfield. If we take an airfield wherein both
B747-8Fs and A320s operate, the MEHT as per the table above would be:
 B747-8F: 12.87M + 9M = 21.87M / 71.7’
 A320 : 06.84M + 9M = 15.84M / 52.0’

This translates to a difference of 6.03M/19.7’! What this means is that if the pilot of an A320 were to fly the correct ‘2 Reds/2 Whites’ indications over the threshold on a
PAPI calibrated for a MEHT that caters for a B747-8F, the aircraft would be about 6M/20’higher. Conversely, if the A320 was following the ILS glideslope correctly, on
short finals, the PAPI above would start indicating ‘3 Reds/1 White’. A quick look at the AIP for VOBL (Bangalore International) reveals that the MEHT is not optimised for
the A320, but rather for larger aircraft like the A380/B747.

3|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

PAPI CHARACTERISTICS

The PAPI light unit produces a colour coded light beam the top half of which is white and the bottom half red. Between the top and bottom halves is the transition sector of
some 3 minutes of arc which is an area of progressive change from white to red and sometimes referred to as the "pink sector".

In as much as the light output from the PAPI unit is colour coded, it is possible to install a number of light units and thereby produce a display by which the pilot can know the
aircraft's [actually the pilot's eye] position. The standard installation is of 4 light units each with a unique vertical angle as shown below:

4|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

It is to be noted that when the display indicates "on approach’’ path, this is not specific to the glide slope (e.g. 3 degrees) but rather the "approach corridor " which is defined
by the angles C and B (shaded magenta), as shown in the figure below. When a display of "on approach" is observed, the pilot eye can be anywhere within the approach
corridor which for normal installation has a width of 20 minutes of arc (0.33°).

5|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

As long as the pilot’s eye is within this corridor, the PAPI would indicate an ‘On profile (2 Reds/2 Whites)’ indication. At large distances from touchdown, the width of this
corridor is large enough to accommodate the differences of EWHs of various aircraft types and gives consistent indications. At about 1050M from PAPI, the width of this
approach corridor of 0.33° reduces to about 6M and keeps reducing further as the aircraft approaches the threshold. An A320 following the ILS glide path would start exiting
the visual approach corridor of a PAPI calibrated for a MEHT of a B747-8F somewhere beyond this point.

The issue may be further complicated by the fact that the ‘Eye to Antenna’ height would be different for different aircraft types. Further, the ILS glide path and the PAPI
approach corridor are not perfectly harmonized, especially at close ranges. The geometry is such that the pilot eye may exit from the approach corridor at some point prior to
the threshold when the aircraft is following the ILS. The figure below illustrates a case for which the pilot eye exits from the bottom of the approach corridor.

Technically, at distances close to the threshold, the indications on the PAPI would be accurate only if the MEHT for which the PAPI has been calibrated matches that of the
aircraft flying the approach and if the PAPI and ILS glide path are perfectly harmonized, but this is seldom the case.

6|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT


UNDERSTANDING THE PAPI

CONCLUSION

As ICAO Annex 14 stipulates that the MEHT selected for the PAPI would depend on the most demanding airplane operating to the airfield, the PAPI at most major airfields
are calibrated for large aircrafts like the B747/A380 and not for smaller aircraft like the B737/A320. Hence on short finals (Typically below CAT I minimums of 200’), PAPI
indications may not be consistent with ILS glide slope indications. Thus, below about 200’ AGL (CAT I Minimums), PAPI indications may change even when on the correct
profile and are not reliable. Hence pilots are not to unstabilize approaches on short finals to correct for PAPI indications.

This erroneous behaviour of the PAPI can be seen in the pictures below taken from the cockpit of an A320 performing an autoland at Bahrain International.

150’AGL 100’AGL

7|Page AAI SAFETY DEPT