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There was this WizzAir flight two days ago, from BUD to PMI, and right before landing it did a ‘spiral’ like maneuver. I’ve attached a screenshot.

Why did it do that? It looks strange.

screenshot

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    $\begingroup$ [pilot]: Wheeeee! $\endgroup$ – Sean Aug 8 at 0:08
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The flight was on the 28th, and before orbiting it was around 12:00 UTC. By using the playback function of FR24, this is the view:

enter image description here

The flight in question was 2383 with call-sign WZZ1161 (FlightAware permalink).

The boxes with numbers and arrows indicate the flight level and either climbing or descending. As you can see, two busy streams were approaching the airport from the north. This orbiting as opposed to a holding track (race track shaped) is common and its phraseology can be:

for spacing orbit left
for spacing make a 360 turn left

Fast forward:

enter image description here

And a Ryanair flight did the same before continuing the approach. It was just heavy traffic and it's quite common over Heathrow (live as of writing this):

enter image description here

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At the time WZZ1161 / W62383 arrived at Palma de Mallorca (PMI), it was rush hour. To sequence the aircraft for final approach, Air Traffic Control usually give aircraft vectors (headings) to increase their path lenght so that they line up with the runway at the right time, with the appropriate amount of spacing from the preceding aircaft.

In case of peak traffic a lot of time may need to be absorbed before the final approach can start. Since vectoring causes high workload for the air traffic controller (multiple instructions, aircraft moving all over the area) ATC resorts to putting aircraft in holding patterns or instruct simple 360 degree orbits.

In the screenshot below you can see 6 aircraft on approach to PMI at the time that WZZ1161 was arriving. All had complex vectors and/or 360 degree orbits as part of their approach. There were just too many aircraft arriving for the airport to handle it efficiently.

Flight Radar 24 screenshot of 6 aircraft vectored on approach to PMI

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The only published Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) over Menorca are coming from the RIXOT and MORSS waypoints as shown in the following Jeppesen chart:

LEPA STAR

It looks like your plane was coming in from RIXOT (where it should have been at FL230 or below). The only published holding is over the Capdepera VOR (CDP), but your plane was circling before reaching that point, meaning it was either instructed to circle there by ATC or requested to do so themselves.

The likely reason for circling (as discussed in the comments) is to bleed off some altitude, which raises the question why the aircraft was too high in the first place. This could have been due to traffic, i.e. ATC does not allow an early descent due to conflicts with other planes, or because the crew expected to fly the full procedure. In the chart above, you can see that the RIXOT 2M arrival goes all the way to the Mallorca VOR (MJV), which is south of the airport. This would typically be flown when approaching on runway 06L/06R.

If the wind direction just recently changed, the airport would switch to landing on 24L/24R instead. While there are published approaches to these runways from MJV, it is much more common to approach via CDP or get radar vectors to final approach. If the crew expected an approach to 06L/06R, they would suddenly be at a much too high altitude. The best way to reduce the altitude now, is to circle before accepting radar vectors on to final.

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Another reason for the 'spin' is to give time for the aircraft in front to either take-off (departure) or get off (landing) the runway. Its actually called an 'orbit' as in "left hand orbit for traffic". This is if you're far out enough.. too near and you'll be going around.

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  • $\begingroup$ The circling occurred almost half an hour before landing, I doubt this was the reason. $\endgroup$ – Bianfable Jul 31 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ I still think there was an issue on the runway.. either another plane took its time getting off or maybe ground team clearing debris reported by a prior aircraft. One aircraft doing orbits may be a problem with that aircraft but two means a sequencing issue. $\endgroup$ – Anilv Aug 1 at 2:14

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