Chaos at PHNL ( explanations + moral )

Hello everyone, today I’m here to tell you what happened today at Daniel K. Inoye Intl. Airport.

What happened?

As you all know, PHNL was the busiest airport during the day, unfortunately, although it has four runways, it is not a strategic location.

After controlling as an IFATC, I am making this message to make sure that all pilots were able to understand what happened and that it is not your fault if delays or go-arounds are caused.

To give you an idea of how the control of an IFATC starts, it starts like this, with all these planes to control :

Why is PHNL not a strategic location?

  • The first thing you need to know is that Atis only opened runways 8L and 8R for take-off and landing, the problem is that traffic was concentrated on 8L, so more planes landed blocking the take-off of some.

  • As you can see below, this image explains the chaos concretely.

Here is what we can deduce :

  1. United 300 will land on Runway 8L
  2. Four aircraft wish to take off / cross runway 8L to the west
  3. G-TSGB and two aircraft in front of him wish to cross runway 8L

Even as a controller, your solution would be to wait for United 300 to land, except that you don’t see a dozen other planes following it.

Landings were no longer the priority

You may not do a go-around, but if the problem is not done in flight, it will be done on the ground, this picture shows us that two planes are dangerously blocked by a 737 that wants to cross the runway, it is therefore imperative to make it cross by canceling the landing of some planes.

impossible take-offs?

I’m not trying to criticize the pilots who are currently on all the pictures I put, but what I’m trying to make you understand are the following things:

  • Impossible to make a plane cross / take off
  • Landings only possible
  • Go-Around probable for lack of distance
  • Big delays

One more problem that does not suit us

A wind change was suddenly made, and the planes were flying with 10kts in tailwind, which is very dangerous, but because of the traffic, the change was extremely difficult to make


What pushed me to make this topic, is to make sure that you are aware that being alone, but managing only the Tower is a lot of work, and that some people have to wait a lot of time, even ten minutes if it is necessary to have an authorization for something.

I would like to thank those who waited a long time ( 15 - 30 min ) to receive a simple instruction to cross the runway, because even if you think that you will have had time to do this action, safety standards impose the opposite, especially as I was led to do dangerous things.

I also want to share with you my mistakes during this session, because the choices were quite difficult to make, and I had to ask for a lot of Go-Around, which allowed me to free up some ground traffic but caused a lot of trouble.
Then, I don’t know if it was me or IF, but I started to lose a lot of planes for a few moments on several occasions, which was quite annoying.

Finally, I just want to ask that pilots don’t get mad at IFATC but understand that even in the real world, a controller would go crazy over such a traffick, and that it’s human to make a mistake or do something stupid, but please be patient and respect our instructions, because we know what we’re doing and we sympathize with you that it might bother you.


One issue that tends to happen every time HNL is the hub, is that 8L is used for departures, and 8R for arrivals. 8R (The Reef Runway) was purpose built for departures, allowing the line to form on Romeo Bravo, instead of Alpha, backing things up all the way to the terminals.

8R arrivals are also a source of another point of congestion…Taxiway Charlie where you have outbound traffic and inbound arrivals head to head for a single taxiway.

A note to Controllers is that you can stack all the departures on Alpha holding short of 8L and then in a gap in arrivals, cross 10-20 aircraft one after another.
This frees up multiple high use taxiways while also keeping departures and arrivals sterilized on separate runways


The problem is that I did not control the ground or the approach, I do not blame them, because they too were busy


you guys are phenomenal the ability to handle this amount of aircraft at a relatively small airport is outrageous in my opinion every controller today did an amazing job from radar all the way to ground , me personally I don’t mind mistakes but I point them out and as @Jetcentric said its better to use 8R for departures instead of 8L or both, but anyways controllers were still able to provide a smooth service despite the circumstances and the huge amount of aircraft.


I agree that they were too busy…but using that config certainly doesn’t help…actually it makes it worse

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I know, but the problem is that the traffic was so huge that both runways were occupied for the landing

Another interesting thing about HNL is just the huge amount of Non-Jet traffic it receives, something not all that common at large hub airports.

On one of my arrivals today I was seeing heavies getting sequenced 5-6 miles behind Caravans resulting in inevitable Go Arounds.

Not that it is necessary IFATC’s fault, but many may be unaccustomed to the mix of Heavies and Turboprops in such proportions


yeah PHNL is certainly not able to handle this amount of traffic

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Possibility of diverting more aircraft as the airport was at max capacity would have been able to free up some space for departures?

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There was no parking problem, the south side was free for example

Well the Hawaiian Islands don’t really have the capacity to pick up that many diverts…however it’s interesting to see that IFATC is still generally reluctant to use Holds


There is no south side FYI, all the gates are north of 8L

Our goal is to meet the needs of pilots, diverting the aircraft would be the ultimate choice

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holds will make things just 10 times worse , especially for the radar controller he will have about 30 aircraft in holding pattern with 10 arriving and departing at the same time with 10 more arriving to the airspace, it will be impossible to control


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Yeah I can see where your coming from it’s super difficult with the lack of options for diversions and the constant aircraft flow.

keep in mind the other airports he has to manage other than PHNL within the airspace

I was the controller of PHNL Ground also the Tower for 2 hours.
This is what I feel:
Especially Runway 8L , it is very hard to let the aircrafts take off, because the inbound aircrafts is quite a lot , I think it is only available to let the aircraft cross the runway…


yeah because too many people were island hopping


Furthermore, to be honest PHNL can not afford so many aircrafts take off and landing… The traffic is too busy

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