Although this type is in gradual decline in the world of aviation, the mighty Boeing 747 has been a key part of commercial passenger operations for decades. Today, it still plays a key role in cargo operations, transporting important goods around the world. Its massive size and ability to carry large amounts of weight comes at a cost, however. Indeed, the queen of the skies needs a long runway to perform take-offs and landings in complete safety. But if the jet might have to make an emergency landing somewhere, what could be the shortest possible acceptable runway length? We’ll take a look.


Key factors to consider

If you’ve spent time reading our articles or have a basic knowledge of aviation, you’ll know that the minimum landing distance will depend on a long list of factors. Not specific to the Boeing 747 at all and applicable to all aircraft, factors include:

  • Aircraft weight
  • Wind conditions
  • Track conditions (weather related)
  • Type of track surface
  • Altitude

This is well visualized in the table below, which shows the runway length of the Boeing 747-400.


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A graph showing the impact of conditions on required landing distance. Photo: Boeing

According to Fleugzeuginfo.net, the empty weight of a 747-400 is 184,567 kg (406,900 lb). Considering the fuel, seats, passengers, crew, and cargo present in an operational jumbo jet, we should definitely add a few thousand kilograms (or pounds) to that number, even at the best of times.

The table notes that if a Boeing 747-400 had an operational landing weight of 475,000 pounds (215,456 kg) and wanted to land on a runway at sea level, the suggested runway length would be a little more than 1,500 meters, or about 5,000 meters. feet. For a concrete example, this length is approximately the same as London City Airport (picking up the jumbo would be another interesting scenario!).

Naturally, the required runway length will vary depending on the 747 model considered. The 747Sp, after all, has an empty weight almost 37,000 kg below the 747-400!

What is the shortest distance recorded?

A pilot and Quora contributor by the name of Ty Joseph notes that the larger, heavier 747-8 managed to land with even less distance.

Joseph notes that during cold weather testing and landing in Iqaluit, Canada, Boeing conducted an emergency landing test using no more than 4,200 feet (1,280 meters) of runway. The jet, he notes, was set to 30 flaps and the thrust reversers were set to 100% on landing. The airbrakes were set to automatic, the automatic brakes were engaged, and the pilot also braked manually. Moreover, with the excessive temperature of the brakes (estimated at more than 700°C), a safety system deflated the tires.


Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 D-ABYG

Weight and weather conditions have a huge effect on minimum track distance. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | single flight

Although this is a slight tangent to the main topic of this article, it is worth noting what is required when an aircraft lands on a runway that is generally too short for normal operations. In the case of an Ethiopian Airlines 767 that accidentally landed at the wrong airport, a successful takeoff was accomplished by leaving passengers on the ground and taking off with only the minimum amount of fuel.

Are you surprised by the minimum distance required? Did you think it was shorter than that? Or longer? Let us know by leaving a comment.


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