Following two recent incidents in which transport category airplanes landed at the wrong airports, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a Safety Alert to remind pilots of the vigilance required to avoid such potentially catastrophic mistakes.
The Safety Alert, “Landing at the Wrong Airport,” cites the January 2014 incident in which a Southwest Airlines 737 landed at the wrong airport in Branson, Missouri; and the November 2013 incident in which a Boeing 747 cargo plane landed on a 6,100-foot runway instead of the 12,000-foot one at its intended airport 12 miles away.
Wrong airport landings present serious safety hazards, including the risk of overrun because a misidentified runway may not be long enough to accommodate the landing airplane, and the risk of collision with other aircraft due to an unexpected incursion into the runway environment.
The Safety Alert outlines five measures pilots can take to avoid a wrong airport landing:
- Adhere to standard operating procedures (SOPs), verify the airplane’s position relative to the destination airport, and use available cockpit instrumentation to verify that you are landing at the correct airport.
- Maintain extra vigilance when identifying the destination airport at night and when landing at an airport with others in close proximity.
- Be familiar with and include in your approach briefing the destination airport’s layout and relationship to other ground features; available lighting such as visual glideslope indicators, approach light systems, and runway lighting; and instrument approaches.
- Use the most precise navigational aids available in conjunction with a visual approach when verifying the destination airport.
- Confirm that you have correctly identified the destination airport before reporting the airport or runway is in sight.