For every actual aviation disaster, there are a countless number of incidents that have a better ending. Aviation safety authorities learn from every incident, and changes are made to be sure they don’t happen again. For example, in July there was a close call at SFO that involved an Air Canada A320 on approach that nearly landed on a taxiway that had four aircraft on it. Even though this mostly seemed to come down to pilot error, changes were made at SFO to prevent something like this from happening again.
The Aviation Herald is one of my favorite sites for tracking aviation incidents that we don’t otherwise hear about, ranging from bird strikes to engine failures to all kinds of other stuff. Most of them aren’t all that interesting, though The Aviation Herald reported today on an incident that happened with an Emirates A380 approaching Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport about a week ago, on September 10, 2017.
The plane was approaching the airport and visibility was good. The plane initiated a go around, which isn’t in and of itself unusual. The concerning part? The plane initiated a go around about 400 feet above ground level eight nautical miles from the runway, and at a heading that was nowhere close to aligning with the runway (the plane was flying 190 degrees, while they were lining up for runway 14R, which is roughly at a heading of about 140 degrees).
Here’s how the incident is described:
An Emirates Airbus A380-800, registration A6-EEZ performing flight EK-131 from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) to Moscow Domodedovo (Russia), was positioning for an approach to Domodedovo’s runway 14R about to intercept the extended runway center line about 8nm before the runway threshold when the aircraft descended to about 400 feet AGL, initiated a go around climbing straight ahead and crossing through the localizer to safe altitude. The aircraft subsequently positioned for another approach to runway 14R, aligned with the extended runway center line but did not initiate the final descent and joined the missed approach procedure as result. The aircraft positioned again for an approach to runway 14R and landed without further incident on runway 14R about 35 minutes after the first go around (from 400 feet AGL).
Position and Altitude data transmitted by the aircraft’s transponder suggest the aircraft was tracking about 190 degrees magnetic when the aircraft initiated the go around at about 1000 feet MSL about 8nm before the runway threshold, which translates to about 400 feet AGL with the aerodrome elevation at 180 meters/592 feet MSL.
This incident is now being investigated by the United Arab Emirates’ Civil Aviation Authority, so hopefully we eventually find out what happened (though I also wouldn’t be surprised if the findings aren’t quite as transparent as we’d hope). Fortunately this ended well, but there’s something seriously wrong if an A380 is 400 feet above the ground (with good visibility) nearly 10 miles from the runway, and flying at the wrong heading.
This could have ended very differently. Last year we saw two UAE airliners crash in the landing phase of the flight just months apart — an Emirates 777 crashed while trying to go around at Dubai Airport, while a FlyDubai 737 crashed after initiating a go around in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
I guess we’ll find out whether this incident had to do with fatigue, a meter/feet conversion issue, the pilots being disoriented and confused about where the runway actually was, the pilots being distracted, or what.
My first thought when I read about this incident was Eastern 401, which was the L-1011 that crashed in the Everglades in 1972. The plane gradually descended after the autopilot was accidentally disengaged, and all three pilots in the cockpit became distracted by a 20 cent lightbulb. Fortunately the Emirates incident didn’t end that way (again, I’m not suggesting that’s what happened on Emirates, but when I think of a plane being off course and at a low altitude, that’s the first incident that comes to mind).
And now that I’ve mentioned that, I’m once again reading about the Ghosts of flight 401, which I find endlessly fascinating. Gosh this is a time suck..