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Aviation

Ask the pilot: Why can’t you reverse an airplane?

Even the most experienced travelers have many questions about the inner workings of airplanes. The experts with all the answers are, of course, the pilots.

Why can’t you reverse an airplane?

Oscar

About Jostein Sørli                          

Age: 34
Career: Alongside his pilot training, Sørli worked as ground staff in Tromsø. He then flew Boeing 737s for another airline before joining SAS three years ago.
Home base: OSL
Flies: Boeing 737
Flight hours: 3,500

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Hi Oscar,

Assuming you mean reversing the aircraft on the ground and out of the gate, in theory we can actually do that, and there are a few aircraft types that even do. However, it’s a complicated and quite noisy procedure, so as a result, many airports prohibit reversing, also known as power back. 

On aircraft with engines mounted under the wing, such as the 737 and A320, there are other reasons as well why we are prohibited from reversing under our own power. Since the engines are situated quite close to the ground, reversing the airflow would kick up quite a bit of gravel and other debris, that could be sucked back into the engine. Consequently, it would greatly increase the wear and tear of our engines. So to answer your question, theoretically we can reverse on the ground, but for practical reasons, on the aircraft we use here at SAS, we are not allowed to do so.

Jostein Sørli 
First Officer

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Last edited: June 10, 2019

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