Airliner nearly lands on other San Francisco planes

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — The pilot of an Air Canada plane carrying 140 passengers made a last-minute maneuver to avoid landing on a taxiway at San Francisco International Airport where four passenger jets were lined up to take off.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it is investigating why the pilot mistakenly made his approach toward the taxiway instead of the runway just to the left. An air traffic controller ordered the Airbus 320 to abort and circle for another landing, which it did without incident Friday night.

Aviation-safety consultant Todd Curtis said it was “definitely a serious event since a landing on an active taxiway could lead to a catastrophic accident.”

In audio posted on liveatc.net, which records flight communications, the pilot on the plane from Toronto and the air traffic controller sounded calm as the close call unfolded.

At first, the pilot said he sees “some lights on the runway,” apparently alluding to planes on the taxiway, the aviation equivalent of feeder roads that planes use to roll between runways and terminals.

The controller assures the pilot there is no one on the runway. Seconds later, another voice — apparently one of the pilots on the taxiway — interjects, “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”

The controller orders the Air Canada jet to “go around,” and the pilot acknowledges the command.

Roughly 30 seconds later, a United Airlines pilot on the taxiway says the jet “flew directly over us.”

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor would not comment on how close Air Canada Flight 759 came to disaster, citing the ongoing investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board also will review what happened.

“Any time you have an incident where there’s a potential for a catastrophic event, we take an interest,” spokesman Keith Holloway said.

It is rare for pilots to mistake a taxiway for a runway, and when it happens, it usually involves small planes at smaller airports. Taxiways do not have the same distinctive markings and lighting that appear on runways.

Earlier this year, actor Harrison Ford flew over an airliner and landed his small plane on a taxiway John Wayne Airport in Southern California. The FAA did not sanction Ford.

Collisions on the ground are particularly dangerous because planes waiting to take off are loaded with fuel. The worst crash in aviation history occurred in 1977 when a KLM Boeing 747 taking off in the Canary Islands plowed into a Pan Am 747 that was waiting to take off; 583 people died in the crash and fires.

In December 2015, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 landed on a central taxiway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. No one was injured.

The San Francisco incident, which Air Canada says it is examining, was first reported Monday by the Bay Area News Group.

Curtis, the safety consultant, said it was impossible to know how often commercial pilots line up their landing for a taxiway instead of a runway because government databases only capture that if there is an accident or serious incident.

Other aviation safety experts noted that while safety systems did work in the end, the incident was serious and could have been calamitous.

Investigators will focus on “how did this series of errors occur, and why didn’t safeguards kick in earlier than they did?” said John Cox, a safety consultant and retired airline pilot.

Cox said it was likely that even if the air traffic controllers didn’t order the Air Canada plane to pull up and make another approach, the crew would have seen planes on the taxiway in time to avoid landing on them.

He said pilots practice low-altitude go-arounds and can perform them even 20 or 30 feet above the ground.

Investigators will be able to determine the Air Canada plane’s altitude and exact location using the flight-data recorder.

Chris Manno, an American Airlines pilot for 32 years who regularly lands in San Francisco, agreed that a crash was unlikely even without a command to go around.

The pilot “is not just blindly going to say, ‘I’m going to land on these aircraft,'” Manno said.

A spokesman for San Francisco’s airport declined to comment.””

Departing and parked aircraft intersect at San Francisco International Airport, Tuesday, July 11, 2017, in San Francisco. An Air Canada Airbus A320 was cleared to land on one of the runways at the San Francisco airport just before midnight on Friday, July 7, when the pilot “inadvertently” lined up with the taxiway, which runs parallel to the runway. There were other aircraft lined up on the taxiway waiting for departure when the incident occurred.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

SportsPlus

Jim Beam

Jim Beam column:Don’t expect new candidates

life

SW La. nightlife calendar: There’s always something to do

life

USAF Band of the West making Lake Charles stop

high-school Sports

Upgrades planned for Jerry Simmons football stadium in Jennings

Crime

Lafayette teen charged in Ernest Street fatal shooting

Crime

6/28: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

Local News

Longhorns make quite a statement to the SEC

Local News

Bicyclist fatally struck after allegedly running stop sign

Local News

PHOTO GALLERY: Stitch Guillory sworn in as sheriff

Local News

Sheriff Guillory: ‘I am living MLK’s dream’

Local News

Supreme Court allows cities to enforce bans on homeless people sleeping outside

Local News

Work begins on new artificial reef off Cameron coast to provide habitat

Local News

Trump, Biden square off for the first time in the 2024 election season

Business

One step closer for Calcasieu Pass LNG project

Local News

Landry uses line-item veto against local organization

life

Lance Burton & Friends: Get ready for a magical experience

Crime

6/27: Calcasieu Parish Sheriff announces arrest list

Local News

Zydeco in the Lake set to make a splash on Saturday

Local News

Supreme Court allows emergency abortions in Idaho for now in a limited ruling

Crime

Court orders guilty verdict in overdose case reversed

life

One in a melon: Beauregard Watermelon Festival lines up three days of family fun

Local News

UPDATE: Four of five candidates for superintendent already work for CPSB

Local News

Calcasieu Parish’s Galan touts progress with drainage projects

Crime

Inmate inadvertently released from custody back in handcuffs