Man, I don’t know what’s going on at SFO, but…
Last July an Air Canada flight had an incident at SFO. The A320 was flying from Toronto to San Francisco, and accidentally lined up to land on the taxiway instead of the runway. To make matters worse, there were four planes on the taxiway that were waiting to take off (a United 787 headed to Singapore, a Philippine Airlines A340 headed to Manila, a United 787 headed to Sydney, and a United 737 headed to Orlando), so you can imagine how much fuel they had.
The Air Canada pilots were clearly confused. On final approach they asked air traffic control to confirm that the runway was clear, because they saw lights on it. Air traffic control confirmed the runway was clear. The Air Canada plane only realized it was about to land on the taxiway when the pilots of one of the planes waiting for takeoff told ATC what was going on. Days after the event we found out that the planes were less than 50 feet apart.
Fortunately this incident ended well and SFO made some changes as a result of it to prevent something similar from happening in the future, though this was just seconds away from being one of the most catastrophic aviation incidents in history.
Well, now the FAA is investigating yet another SFO runway incident. This time around it involves this Tuesday’s Aeromexico flight 688 from Mexico City to San Francisco. The plane was given clearance to land on runway 28R at SFO. Here’s what happened, per an FAA spokesperson:
“Aeromexico Flight 668 was cleared to land on Runway 28R, and correctly read back that clearance. When the plane was about a mile from the airport, air traffic controllers noticed the aircraft was lined up for Runway 28L and instructed the crew to execute a missed approach. A Virgin America jet was on Runway 28L at the time,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
Now, this incident isn’t as severe as what happened to the Air Canada jet that potentially only missed four planes by about 50 feet. After all, this plane was still a mile from the runway. However, it’s still puzzling that in daylight on a clear day the pilots could make this mistake. Based on their approach it would appear that they assumed the taxiway on the left was actually runway 28L, and that runway 28L was actually runway 28R (or something).
Fortunately the air traffic controllers caught this and the plane was ordered to go around, and we can certainly hope that the pilots would have seen the Virgin America plane that was on the runway they were approaching (though you’d think they would have already seen this if they were only a mile way).
It’s almost starting to seem like SFO has some sort of a Bermuda Triangle effect on pilots. Or maybe there’s just increased interest in SFO incidents following what happened with Air Canada. I’ll be curious to see what comes of this investigation.