Air Canada Flight Misses By Four Feet

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New flight recorder data says Air Canada flight 759 (ACA759), an Airbus A320, descended as low as 59 feet above ground level and the 55-foot tall 787 on Taxiway C before beginning to climb out on its go-around—coming potentially as close as four feet from a collision. At four minutes to midnight on July 7, ACA759, which had been cleared to land on Runway 28R at San Francisco International, instead lined up on Taxiway C, on which three aircraft were holding for takeoff. After prompting by one of the pilots of United Flight 1 (UA1), the first in line for takeoff on Taxiway C, who was well positioned to see that ACA759 was not headed toward a runway, the tower controller instructed ACA759 to go around. After advancing the thrust levers at 85 feet above ground level, the aircraft continued to sink to a minimum altitude of 59 feet, before overflying at least two more aircraft. Altitude figures in the NTSB report are likely based on the A320’s radar altimeter, according to an A320 pilot who spoke with AVweb about the incident. The extent to which the accuracy of the radar altimeter may have been influenced by extremely close proximity to aircraft underneath has not yet been reported by the NTSB.

According to initial interviews with the flight crew, both pilots appear to have been confused by the absence of lighting on Runway 28L, which had been closed for construction. Its lights were turned off at the time of the incident, and a 20.5-foot wide flashing X had been placed near the threshold. The Air Canada pilots reporting believing that Runway 28R was actually 28L and they therefore believed that Taxiway C was Runway 28R. According to the NTSB, the pilots “did not recall seeing aircraft on Taxiway C but that something did not look right to them.” At 0.7 miles from the runway, the Airbus crew had asked the tower to confirm there were no aircraft on 28R and that they were cleared to land. The NTSB only learned of the incident two days after the fact, at which point the cockpit voice recorder had been overwritten by subsequent flights.

Comments (7)

What were the conditions, behaviors, actions, and/or inactions that resulted in the destruction of evidence?

Posted by: Bill Corcoran | August 7, 2017 6:07 AM    Report this comment

The photo clearly reveals that at least one of the airliners waiting in line on taxiway C had its bright landing lights on facing the Air Canada A320, already over the threshold attempting to land. I'm familiar with SFO, and all that dark area above the airport is San Francisco Bay. How could the ACA759 miss the landing lights of the lined-up planes on C? Weather looks CAVU.

Posted by: Mike Ross | August 7, 2017 8:46 AM    Report this comment

I think when the final report comes out we'll read about a classic case of "confirmation bias" in the Airbus cockpit. The faire of the FAA tower controllers, the airline, and the pilots involved to alert the NTSB is surprising given the obvious potential of this serious operational error in the cockpit.

Posted by: John Townsley | August 7, 2017 8:56 AM    Report this comment

I thinik when the we read the NTSB final report of this near accident we'll learn about a serious case of confirmation bias in the Airbus cockpit. I agree with Bill Corcoran that it was very surprising that the SFO tower controllers, Airbus pilots, the company, and perhaps none of the potential victims in the cockpits of aircraft on the taxiway made no apparent contacts with the NTSB to get the ball rolling and protect the evidence.

Posted by: John Townsley | August 7, 2017 9:01 AM    Report this comment

Where are all the commenters who called for Harrison Ford's license revocation for doing the same thing?

Posted by: Denis Arquette | August 7, 2017 3:57 PM    Report this comment

The NTSB initial report has some inconsistencies.... it says that the go around was initiated at "about 85 feet" yet can specify the lowest altitude to a foot (59 feet). No reference to whether this was a baro or radio altitude. Also, if the minimum altitude was from RA, this could have been reflected from the aircraft on the ground, maybe even the top of the tail. So sensationalising it to 4 feet from impacting a tail is below an aviation newspaper reporting standards.

The NTSB report indicated that the flight had initiated go around prior to the controller advising it to go-around, not after, as reported here.

Not trying to excuse any issue surrounding the incident, but it is only responsible for an aviation publication to report the issues with facts, not incorrect timelines and phrases like "likely based".

Posted by: David Inch | August 7, 2017 8:26 PM    Report this comment

"The NTSB only learned of the incident two days after the fact, at which point the cockpit voice recorder had been overwritten by subsequent flights."

Well, at least there has been some progress in respect to reporting a near-miss. When it happened to me 22 years ago, there was a concerted effort to cover up my near collision report and it worked. During taxi-in, the LAX tower requested a telephone call. I called and informed the tower chief we almost collided with a 727 and that I would be filing a near collision/TCAS report. He replied "Oh (expletive deleted)!"

My two telephone reports (company and FAA) and my written report, put everyone on notice that a major disaster had been narrowly averted and an investigation was required. Despite several inquiries, I heard nothing more for over 6 months. Eventually, I received a letter which claimed my report was received too late to conduct an investigation because the FAA only keeps the tapes for 15 days. Yet, my written report was date-stamped as received SIX DAYS after that near disaster!

The tower chief knew the near collision was likely the direct result of LAX controller error. It was his duty to immediately preserve the radar and audio tapes and begin an investigation. Yet, he didn't and, apparently, those in the private sector who knew about it, were not willing to risk the publicity that might flow from such an investigation. Thus, all they had to do was quietly sit on it until those tapes were automatically shredded. They had nothing to fear because the FAA would not punish its own employees for engaging in a deliberate cover-up, like it would if pilots had done the same.

Robert J. Boser

Posted by: Robert Boser | August 9, 2017 3:20 PM    Report this comment

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