I read avherald.com on a daily basis, which covers airline incidents and news. I noticed they covered a case at Seoul Incheon Airport on May 5, where a Singapore Airlines 777 had to abort its takeoff due to a Korean Air A330 crossing the runway without permission.
Incidents involving planes crossing runways without permission always immediately remind me of the Tenerife Disaster, which is the single worst aircraft accident in history. During this incident two 747s collided on a runway, killing 583 people.
Several media outlets have picked up on the Singapore Airlines & Korean Air situation at Incheon Airport, labelling it a near miss. First of all, I don’t actually understand the term “near miss.” Shouldn’t it be “near hit?” Comedian George Carlin (RIP) had a great joke about this back in the day:
Anyway, The Aviation Herald has a good explanation of what happened. To summarize:
- A Singapore Airlines 777-300ER bound for San Francisco began its takeoff roll on runway 15R
- Moments later a Korean Air A330-200 (incorrectly) joined a taxiway which crosses runway 15R
- The Singapore Airlines 777-300ER had their takeoff clearance canceled; at this point they were going 105 knots, and they managed to slow down 5,100 feet away from the Korean Air A330-200
- Due to overheating, the tires on the Singapore Airlines 777-300ER deflated, causing the flight to be delayed by about 19 hours
- The Korean Air A330-200 returned to the gate, incurring about a 100 minute delay
It’s obvious that the Korean Air plane was in the wrong. I’m also curious why the Korean Air plane returned to the gate. Did they want to start an investigation of the pilots right away? If so, was Korean Air able to find a replacement cockpit crew that quickly?
More importantly, was this actually a narrowly avoided catastrophe? While any situation where a plane enters an active runway without permission is inexcusable and worthy of an investigation, this situation was unlikely to end in catastrophe, even without intervention:
- The taxiway on which the Korean Air plane crossed the runway (marked “G” in the below diagram) was at the very end of the ~12,300 foot runway, so the Korean Air plane was crossing at the furthest possible point of the runway
- Without intervention, the Singapore Airlines plane would have taken off well ahead of where the Korean Air plane was crossing
- Even with the high speed aborted takeoff, the Singapore Airlines plane stopped with roughly a mile of runway left
Map via The Aviation Herald
None of this is to downplay the ridiculousness of crossing an active runway without permission, but it is to say that I don’t think this was quite a near-repeat of the Tenerife Disaster.