An Emirates A380 Had A Dangerously Low Go-Around In Moscow

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).


View approaching Moscow

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..

Comments

  1. “The Aviation Herald is one of my favorite sites for tracking aviation incidents that often otherwise go unreported”

    This is simply untrue. Incidents are reported and investigated though the proper channels even though the media doesn’t hear about them before reports are issued.

  2. @ O. — Sorry, clearly I didn’t express that well. I meant to say that go unreported in the media, rather than unreported to authorities. I updated the post to make that clearer.

  3. They clearly didn’t set up their approach properly in their Flight Management System and weren’t paying much attention to the airfield if they were 400 feet AGL and 10 miles away. Scary!

  4. “I also wouldn’t be surprised if the findings aren’t quite as transparent as we’d hope” because UAE or because russia?

  5. @ anon — A combination of factors? I feel like the UAE has more to protect here in terms of the image of their airline, but who knows.

  6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you think the 28 year old captains on your pretty Emirates jet is the “same thing” as what you’ll find on United, Delta, etc — or Cathay/Singapore (forever job airlines) — you are not correct. There’s a reason somebody with the minimum allowable hours in a private flying school gets nowhere near a cockpit of a wide body jet in most first world countries.

    Have I flown Emirates? Yes–once–to see what all the hype was about (and frankly I vastly prefer CX/SQ). The risk is still statistically very small and it’s one I took with open eyes. But I would definitely have thought twice about it if I knew about a major weather event on either end of my trip…

  7. @ Justin — I don’t necessarily disagree, but the US airlines aren’t all that different. They contract much of their flying to regionals, where you in some cases have 25 year old captains. The whole reason they contract out the flying is to save money, pay pilots lower wages, and in turn, get less qualified pilots with less experience. I agree I’m more trusting of a US legacy cockpit than a Gulf carrier cockpit, but the same isn’t true of the regionals that US carriers use.

  8. I don’t think they where off course though, as they where intercepting the final approach course for runway 14R then 190 degrees magnetic seems about right for a 50 cut of the ILS

  9. @lucky I wasn’t necessarily targeting you with my comment, though I appreciate the response. Everybody does have to start somewhere, though on a statistical basis, I’m much more comfortable with that starting place being a CR2 than an A380. Obviously in a perfect world, you’d have nothing but experienced captains on all aircraft, but that’s just not realistic. However, a CR2 pilot would have to crash into something else to cause anywhere near 600 deaths. A380 pilot can do it all by himself…

  10. Actually, Lucky, it is the pilot unions in North America that dictated that regional aircraft have to be operated by a separate company than mainline aircraft, to preserve “equal pay for equal work.” It is considered a much larger responsibility to fly mainline aircraft than regional. I believe the threshold is something like 88 seats. It is not the cost of operation that dictates it. In fact, contracting these flights is more costly than folding them into the mainline operations would be.

    It’s up to the airline on whether to own the subsidiary (as I’m American Eagle) or just contract them out or something in between, but they must operate differently to separate the “Captains” on a CRJ versus the Captains (or even FOs) on E190 and larger. That’s why you see Horizon separated from Alaska and why E190s are American, but E175 are American Eagle and why JetBlue doesn’t fly E175 or E170.

    Canada has similar rules for themselves. I believe Germany does too.

  11. I read the Ghost of Flight 401 when I was about 14, by accident. I think I can blame it for my life-long interest in aviation.

    Another flight in the wrong place at the wrong time was TE901. This EK flight may have got lucky…

  12. 400 feet above ground level at the present position tells you nothing about how high they were above airport elevation.

    Take the Monterey (California) localizer approach to 28L. Flown correctly, it passes within 700 feet of vertical obstructions that are several thousand feet above the airport surface. Why? It begins by flying over a ridge line and descends towards the airport.

    The FAA-issued instrument approaches design criteria (TERPS) allow relatively narrow tolerances between safety and obstructions below (read: less than 400 feet for some approaches). This didn’t happen in the US, but similar design choices may happen abroad.

    The Emirates crew may have made a mistake, but instrument approaches can and do pass close to the ground at times.

  13. I would guess from my experience with this airport, a misunderstanding of the altimeter setting, Russians still use QFE … which can create some confusion and end up flying a significantly lower altitude… though there is a conversion table on the approach charts….
    As for the 190° heading its appropriate to intercept the localizer.

  14. Did I read that right? There were not one but TWO go arounds before they finally got it right? Third times a charm I guess.

  15. Having been employed by three international airlines (in basically third-world nations) I’ve experienced what I will call “children of the magenta line.” The FO’s I worked with generally had minimal “stick and rudder” skills and had very little situational awareness other than what the magenta line, on the Navigation Display, presented. STAR’s and SID’s can be incorrectly programmed but they will be correctly flown by the autopilot–resulting in a “what’s it doing now” situation. I will admit that I don’t know about the Airbus systems, but Boeing does an excellent job of providing pilots with both lateral and vertical situation awareness. However, it is still incumbent upon the crew to program and check the computer. The saying that comes to mind, besides “Boeing Builds Them Better” is, “In God we Trust, everything else we check.”

  16. Isn’t 400 feet too low on a 8 mile final approach?? Taking into consideration 3 degree glide path angle.

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