Update: New Info On Citation Go-Around At San Diego Int’l Airport


Last Friday (Aug. 11), a Cessna Citation XLS business jet executed a go-around at San Diego International Airport (Lindbergh Field—KSAN) after it had been cleared to land from 5 miles out on the RNAV (GPS) Y approach to Runway 27. But recordings show the controller had also instructed a Boeing 737 to line up and wait on the same runway. The 737 was lined up at the full-length approach end of Runway 27, which is 9,400 feet long but has a 1,810-foot displaced threshold for landing aircraft. The FAA reported: “The controller had previously cleared the Citation to land on Runway 27 and then instructed Southwest Flight 2493 to taxi onto that runway and wait for instructions to depart. The facility’s automated surface surveillance system alerted the controller about the developing situation.”

Audiotapes of the ATC communications confirm the clearances issued for both aircraft. But the recordings also show that, as they neared the airport, the crew of the Citation attempted to call the tower to confirm the landing clearance. But the initial call was blocked by a conversation between the controller and another taxiing aircraft about an amended clearance. After the Citation crew got even closer and asked again about its landing clearance, the controller urgently instructed them to go around. The FAA estimates the Citation came within 100 feet of the 737 as it overflew the runway.

After the Citation passed overhead, the controller directed the Southwest 737 to exit the runway as there was an Alaska Airlines aircraft on a 2-mile final for the same runway. The Citation XLS was redirected to approach control for a return to the airport for landing and the Southwest flight departed uneventfully about 10 minutes later.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. There’s got’a be a better way. Would love to see a guy like Elon Musk take a look at present day ATC and do a total revamp.

    • Now that’s funny… For $19/mo, you get “Takeoff blue” which makes your takeoff request appear higher in the queue. You won’t actually request clearance for takeoff or landing, instead you’ll get “cleared to X” and all airport IDs will be replaced with “X”. Also, airports will now be “free speech zones” where anyone with a monster truck and a 6 pack will be allowed to do donuts on the runway while you’re trying to land because they paid $19/mo. All air traffic controllers will be required to make 420 and sex jokes in order to keep their jobs. He’ll be goaded into buying the FAA for $100B, fire everyone, then figure out that air traffic controllers and certification inspectors actually do something–who knew.

      Yeah, can’t wait for Musk to “help” here.

    • Elmo is busy destroying Twitter (or whatever he’s calling it now), building cars that spontaneously combust, and itching for childish fights with his fellow billionaires. We don’t need him making ATC worse.

  2. With that long-distance displaced threshold, could the Citation have landed normally over the top of the 737? (I admit that the vertical stabilizer of a Boeing makes a heck of a 50′ obstacle.
    Even if it’s more like 40′.)

  3. I must be getting old. I can’t be the only one that says “Goll Dang it” when they clear someone to line up and wait when we’re inside the FAF approaching 1,000′.

    Kudos to the Citation crew.

  4. As a retired Canadian ATC and private pilot who has flown in the USA many times, I’ve always been perplexed as to why landing aircraft get a landing clearance well in advance of landing, while other operations continue on the the active runway. In Canada, a landing clearance cannot be issued until the runway is clear of all traffic, and will remain so. If no landing clearance is received the aircraft must initiate a go around. Has always seemed a safer procedure to me.

    • Not always practical. If you are landing at capacity like ORD or another busy place, the arriving aircraft is legal to land as long as a previous jet is airborne and at least 6000′ down the runway, or a previous arrival has taxied clear of the runway and the arrival has not crossed the landing threshold. These early landing clearances are a judgement call by the controller who hopefully has done this many, many times. It is anticipated separation. So rather than keep the pilot in suspense until very last second, if you are confident it going to work, issue the landing clearance. If it appears that it is not going to work, then hopefully the controller will see it in time to issue a go around at a comfortable point. Clearances can always be cancelled. And if it is conditional, the arriving aircraft will be given information on the other aircraft so they can also anticipate some themselves.

      • One of my now-retired ex-ORD tower friends says that “Cleared to land” has turned into the answer to “What do you say when an airplane calls?”

        I used to investigate incidents like this, and still cringe at hearing a line-up-and-wait instruction followed by a landing clearance to the same runway. If the runway isn’t clear, the landing pilot SHOULD be in suspense – that’s the whole idea of a clearance that’s dependent on resolving a conflict. Rather than setting up a situation that has to be fixed later to resolve the controller-induced conflict, keep the pilots in the loop with an automatic go-around absent a landing clearance that actually means something. Issuing a landing clearance shouldn’t be a tick-the-box exercise followed by a last-second fix. I’ve heard completely nutso transmissions (at a major air carrier airport!) like “Number 6, cleared to land.” That controller had -zero- idea of how the runway was going to look when number 6 showed up, which puts us right back to the ORD comment above. Not good.

  5. Why was a taxiing aircraft on tower frequency (LC) instead of Ground Control, or Clearance Delivery? OR – was it the control tower operator working GC and CD as well as LC, and it was his transmission on LC that blocked the Citation’s call?

  6. This is, at least, the 2nd time a Southwest flight has been holding on a runway when a landing aircraft had to go around due to loss of separation. Southwest’s pilots have a real gogo reputation, they are willing to depart or land with a crosswind, downwind or from an intersection, if it gets them in the air or on a gate faster. Flying like that they should be especially alert to what ATC is doing with other traffic, particularly when accepting a line up and wait clearance. At the approach end of runway 27 in San, you can’t see traffic on final. You have to listen to the tower frequency to understand where other flights are and how they might affect your flight. When told to vacate the runway the pilots seemed more concerned about what their new departure sequence would be rather than that a Citation almost landed on top of them and that an Alaska jet was on a two mile final. You’re not the only one out there, pay attention.

  7. Which was safer — continuing the landing by flying over the 737, or the go-around, with all the potential for mishap there?

  8. TCAS needs to be updated to give a TA and eventually an RA for this situation if we’re going to continue to allow this nonsense of one tower controller running the entire show. I’ve heard one voice all the way from approach to the gate at SAN and others.