Airline Go-Around Raises Fears

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image: Bay Area News Group

image: Bay Area News Group

An Air Canada A320 crew mistakenly lined up to land on the parallel Taxiway C instead of Runway 28R last Friday at San Francisco International Airport, a mistake that was caught and corrected by air traffic controllers. The incident sparked widespread news reporting about the “near miss” that could have caused “the greatest aviation disaster in history.” The Mercury News, based in the Bay Area, broke the story on Monday. The story notes that “four airplanes full of passengers and fuel” were parked on the taxiway waiting to take off, and all of them could have been destroyed if the A320 had in fact tried to land there. Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman, told The News that Flight AC759 from Toronto “landed normally without incident” after a go-around.

On the audio clip from, the Air Canada pilot can be heard asking the tower why there are aircraft lights on the runway, and he is told there are no aircraft on the runway. Another unidentified voice then chimes in to say he’s lined up on the taxiway, and the controller tells him to go around. "If you could imagine an Airbus colliding with four passenger aircraft widebodies, full of fuel and passengers, then you can imagine how horrific this could have been," retired United Airlines Captain Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, told the Mercury News. "If it is true, what happened probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history.” The FAA is now investigating the incident, according to Reuters.


Comments (19)

LOL - I'm sure they were going to just keep right on going and knowingly plow into 4 airplanes on the taxiway. Ridiculous, over-hyped, non-event. So typical these days. This is why I've stopped listening to mainstream news.

Posted by: Ken Keen | July 11, 2017 4:43 PM    Report this comment

A report blown out of proportion? Just a bit outside!

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 11, 2017 6:29 PM    Report this comment

Is the captain related to Harrison Ford?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | July 11, 2017 7:00 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 11, 2017 8:36 PM    Report this comment

We are human, and we do make occasional mistakes. I agree with Mr Keen. Something didn't look right, and the pilot spoke up, another pilot spoke up, the controller spoke up, and all was resolved by a simple and NORMAL go-around maneuver. We need to applaud the willingness to re-analyze the situation by these people who cared. Lets not make a go-around something to be criticised for. Its a great escape!! We should do them more often.

Posted by: Dean Brock | July 11, 2017 11:18 PM    Report this comment

When a famous pilot with aviation fever did it, everyone was ready to strip him of his certificates, put him in an old folks home or give him the electric chair. When Air Canada does it with a tube full of pax, it's just a simple mistake and business as usual. I don't get it. I'm with Ken, as well.

Good job to all !! Especially the 'unknown' voice who piped up. I'm sure the NASA forms are still sizzlin' ?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | July 12, 2017 4:04 AM    Report this comment

The story says, "Okay, says the pilot, then a new voice chimes in. "Where's this guy goin'? He's on the taxiway." As far as I know, that voice hasn't been identified, except as maybe another pilot on the frequency. But in this case he might be labeled as the voice of reason, the clear light of reality, the last chance of averting disaster."

Whose voice was the new voice?

Luck is not a robust barrier.

Posted by: Bill Corcoran | July 12, 2017 7:55 AM    Report this comment

Well, we can expect a new emphasis on using back-up approach guidance (ILS or RNAV) while flying a visual approach. RWY 28R has both. For U.S. carriers, I believe that expectation is already there,. It's also a bit unusual for air carriers to be lined up on TWY C...usually they are on the south side parallel since that's the shortest from the terminals.

Posted by: Scott Thompson | July 12, 2017 9:57 AM    Report this comment

That "unidentified voice" is presumptively crew of the waiting jets lined up on the taxiway, looking on with growing alarm and exercising their enlightened self interest from the unique perspective of the taxiway where they are waiting.

If the tower had remote cameras way out there at the approach ends of the runways perhaps they could tell the difference between lined up with the runway and lined up with something else, but at near midnight, visually from the tower I'd think there was pretty much no way the tower would have otherwise identified that offset approach. This is all on the Air Canada flight crew.

It will be interesting to see any CFR transcripts on this one to see how they got as far along as they did before they saw all those lights on what they thought was the runway and started to think something was wrong.

Posted by: Michael Brogley | July 12, 2017 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps that new voice was a following aircraft who after hearing the exchange verified they were lined up properly and that Air Canada plane was not.

Related in spirit, years ago I was bringing a 35' sailboat back to the marina. The entrance approach was very narrow and one had to follow a compass course to an exact spot then make a 90 degree right turn. I thought I was dead on course when my keel hit bottom and we ran aground. There was a 40' behind me and as he passed to my right by 10 yards he thanked me because he had been following the same course heading. Sometimes its good to be the guy following and thank goodness the only thing bad may be a visit from the FAA.

Posted by: Justin Hull | July 12, 2017 2:09 PM    Report this comment

I'm a little puzzled that the controller didn't question why if there were no other aircraft on 28R the pilot asked about lights. Seems to me, such a question should raise a caution flag on the controllers part to clarify why the pilot reported seeing lights that shouldn't exist on the runway?

Fred Speckmann

Posted by: Fred Speckmann | July 12, 2017 4:28 PM    Report this comment

As someone who got to spend a lot of time in A320's and as anybody who has flown one knows the NAV on these birds is state of the art. It is so precise that ATC can spot Airbus as they go XC by the exact lines they fly. So my question is what the holy crap were these AC guys watching as they cruised down final? it sure as heck wasn't anything on the screen.......I'd say give them six months no pay to think it excuse for this one.

Posted by: Larry Loffelmacher | July 14, 2017 8:52 AM    Report this comment

This has been a problem at Gatwick (England) in the past. In the case of Gatwick the taxiway is actually a designted relief runway (at what would otherwise be a single-runway airport).

I'm not sure it would have helped in this instance but at Gatwick there are two sets of lights; a 'straight' set for landing aligned with the runway centreline and a second set of taxiway lights with a very distintive dog-leg in them that is unmistakabel from the air.

As a poster above has commented, I'm amazed that the crew wern't monitoring some form of nav-aid to confirm runway selection. Do we really need rules to mandate this? Surely it's just airmanship and common sense?

Posted by: Peter Ben | July 14, 2017 4:50 PM    Report this comment

Lining up for the wrong piece of pavement isn't new. There is always room for mistakes. We stay alert to help others correct theirs because WE make mistakes, too, and welcome help when we do. What's new (to me) here is the person sounding like anti-airport whiners, "he flew over me ooooooooo" even though I'm pretty sure he gets paid for flying over other people. :)

Posted by: MICHAEL MUETZEL | July 14, 2017 5:06 PM    Report this comment

Don't airliners fly the ILS as a matter of practice and shouldn't this have avoided the problem?

Arturo Thompson

Posted by: ARTHUR THOMPSON | July 14, 2017 6:56 PM    Report this comment

I can just barely understand how this might happen in the daytime - taxiways can look like runways, I suppose - but at night? The runway environment is so /spectacularly/ different from an "approach" to a taxiway that it is inconceivable to mistake one for the other. The only way I can imagine this happening is if neither of the flight deck crew is looking out the front window for some reason. The CVR transcripts should make for very interesting reading indeed.

Posted by: paul bennett | July 15, 2017 1:09 PM    Report this comment

The mp3 file is 404.

Posted by: Lawrence Portouw | August 18, 2017 8:04 AM    Report this comment

By the time, the pilot realized his error and powered up--there is some lag---he got down to 59' above the ground. A few more seconds and he would have made contact. Lining up with the taxiway happens occasionally. FLL Ft. Lauderdale has large "TAXI" signs painted at the beginning of their taxiways to eliminate confusion.

Posted by: Claude Wagner | August 18, 2017 2:33 PM    Report this comment

I still can't understand that at the low altitude the crew finally recognized they weren't lined up with the runway (which was fully lighted AS A RUNWAY) they couldn't discern, on a perfectly clear night, four airplanes with beacons and nav lights and maybe nose taxi lights on sitting on what they thought was the runway. Would you land on a runway if it had an airplane sitting on it? althought that did happen at LAX a few years ago due to an ATC error. Whowever made the call from one of those airplanes on the taxiway is the one that saved the day, not ATC and not the Airbus crew. As a 28,000 hour military / airline / corporate pilot this incident is beyond my ability to understand.

Posted by: Gary Bain | August 20, 2017 6:31 PM    Report this comment

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