Saturday, July 15, 2017

Air Canada flight 759, Airbus A-320, C-FKCK: Incident occurred July 07, 2017 at San Francisco International Airport (KSFO), San Francisco, California

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this incident.

Aviation Incident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: DCA17IA148
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 129: Foreign operation of Air Canada
Incident occurred Friday, July 07, 2017 in San Francisco, CA
Aircraft: AIRBUS 320, registration: C-FKUK
Injuries: Unavailable

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators used data provided by various sources and may have traveled in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft incident report.

On July 7, 2017, about 2356 Pacific daylight time, Air Canada flight 759, an Airbus A-320, C-FKCK, was cleared to land on runway 28R at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), San Francisco, California, but instead lined up on parallel taxiway C, which had four air carrier airplanes on it awaiting takeoff clearance (a Boeing 787 that was first in line followed by an Airbus A340, another Boeing 787, and a Boeing 737). The flight descended below 100 feet above the ground and initiated a go-around after overflying the first airplane on the taxiway. The flight was operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 129 as an international scheduled passenger flight from Toronto/Lester B. Pearson International Airport, (YYZ), Toronto, Canada. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the incident.

Eleven seconds was the estimated difference between a recent near-miss at San Francisco International Airport and the possible deaths of hundreds of passengers in what could have been one of the worst aviation disasters ever.

Apparently only a last-minute warning from an alert pilot on the ground prevented an Air Canada plane mistakenly landing on a taxiway where four fully fueled planes were awaiting permission for take-off.

New data provided by experts since the July 7 near disaster is showing just how harrowingly close the Air Canada jet came to the jets on the taxiway.

How could this happen? The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. But so far, we’re getting more information from the Canadian government than our own.

On July 13, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada released the first official details. Air Canada Flight 759, coming from Toronto, was supposed to be on visual approach to Runway 28R. Instead, it was headed for Taxiway C.

At the front of the line on the ground was United Airlines Flight 1 with enough fuel for an 8,446-mile, nearly 16½-hour trip to Singapore, what the airline last year called the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier.

Behind it were Philippine Airlines 115 to Manila; United Airlines 863 to Sydney, Australia; and United Airlines 1118 to Orlando, Fla. All were queued up on the taxiway with no quick escape route and the Air Canada plane headed straight for them.

The Air Canada pilot radioed that he saw lights on the runway but the air traffic controller, who was also coordinating with another facility, radioed back that the runway was clear. Neither apparently realized that the pilot was mistakenly targeting the adjacent taxiway.

“Where’s this guy going! He’s on the taxiway,” interjects a crew member from a plane on the ground. The air traffic controller immediately instructs the Air Canada pilot to abort his landing. By one estimate, the plane was within 11 seconds of impact.

According to the Canadian safety board, the plane had flown over a quarter-mile of the taxiway before it pulled back up. It cleared the first two planes by about 100 feet, the third by 200 feet and the last one by 300 feet.

“Air Canada flew directly over us,” the pilot of United 1 told the tower moments later.

As a point of comparison, the height of a Boeing 787 — one of the four aircraft on the taxiway at the time of the incident — is 56 feet, which means the Air Canada jet was less than 50 feet away from a horrifying disaster.

Airfield lighting has been a major topic on aviation sites, with experts explaining that the different colored lights — runways have white lights while taxiways have blue and green lights — should have been a clear indication to the pilots that they were heading for a taxiway instead.

How did the Air Canada pilot mistake the blue lights of the taxiway for the white lights of the runway? The FAA reported that at the time of the incident, runway 28L, a parallel runway to the left of runway 28R, was closed with its lights dark. One theory is that the Air Canada pilots, flying a visual approach, could have mistaken the lights at runway 28R for 28L’s, and used that as a visual reference to guide it towards what they assumed was their intended runway.

More questions: Was the air traffic controller alone? What else was he doing and why did he not head off the near-collision sooner? And why did we learn about this from aviation enthusiasts rather than federal officials?

Air Canada isn’t providing details. Neither are the FAA or NTSB. They must reveal exactly what happened – and why.

WASHINGTON – Federal investigators confirmed Monday that an Air Canada jet was descending toward a taxiway holding four other planes rather than the assigned runway and narrowly avoided disaster at San Francisco International Airport.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it interviewed the captain of the Air Canada plane, will talk to the co-pilot Tuesday and finish talking to air traffic controllers by Wednesday.

The NTSB said the Air Canada Airbus A320 was cleared to land on runway 28R but instead lined up its approach for a parallel taxiway, which four other airliners were using to get in position to take off.

The NTSB said the Air Canada jet descended to less than 100 feet above the ground and flew over another plane before aborting the landing on July 7.

Air Canada declined to comment, citing the investigation.

The Air Canada jet, with 140 people on board, was arriving from Toronto. The NTSB statement adds details to the first official description of the close call, a summary released last week by Canadian safety authorities.

Also Monday, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who was a passenger aboard the flight, released a letter to Air Canada in which he requested that the airline keep passengers informed of the results of any investigation. He said passengers were not told what was happening, and instead, the pilot “made a nonchalant announcement that he had to go around due to traffic at the airport.”

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has given the flight data recorder, one of the so-called black boxes from the Air Canada plane, to the NTSB, which is leading the investigation.

The NTSB said it has security-camera video of the late-night incident and will release it in the coming months.

Investigators looking into the frighteningly close call involving an airliner that nearly hit planes on the ground at San Francisco International Airport will try to determine why the pilots made such a rookie mistake and nearly landed on a busy taxiway instead of the runway.

The Air Canada plane with 140 people aboard came within 100 feet of crashing onto the first two of four passenger-filled planes readying for takeoff.

Runways are edged with rows of white lights, and another system of lights on the side of the runway helps guide pilots on their descent. By contrast, taxiways have blue lights on the edges and green lights down the center.

"The lighting is different for good reason," said Steven Wallace, a former director of accident investigations at the Federal Aviation Administration. "Some of these visual mistakes are hard to believe, but a crew gets fixated with thinking 'That's the runway,' and it's not."

Then there is the radio transmission in which one of the Air Canada pilots sounded puzzled about seeing what appeared to be the lights of other planes on the runway. Safety experts said that should have prompted the crew to abort their approach long before they did.

When investigators interview the pilots, they will focus on understanding how mistakes occurred "and why they did not realize the sequence of errors," said John Cox, a safety consultant and former airline pilot. Investigators will look at the pilots' use of automated-flying systems, their manual flying skills, and how they interacted with each other as uncertainty set in, he said.

Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board may arrive this weekend and interview the pilots and air traffic controllers, an agency spokesman said Friday. They will examine information from the flight data recorder, which will tell them the plane's exact location and how it was being flown. They also will listen to the cockpit voice recorder, which may indicate whether the pilots were focused on their job or distracted.

Canada's transportation safety board said the Air Canada jet skimmed just 100 feet over the tops of two planes waiting for takeoff. After an air traffic controller ordered them to abandon their landing, the pilots pulled up their Airbus A320 just in time, circled and landed correctly on the runway. No one was injured.

The Canadian agency's summary was the first official account of just how dangerous the situation was.

An Air Canada spokeswoman said she could not comment because the incident is under investigation. She declined to describe the amount of experience of the pilots.

A recording of the radio calls between pilots and the control tower captured uncertainty in the Air Canada cockpit as the plane approached shortly before midnight on July 7. One of the pilots radioed to the tower that he saw lights — presumably other planes — on the runway. An air traffic controller assured him the runway was clear.

After a pilot apparently in one of the planes on the ground said the Air Canada jet was heading straight for the taxiway, a controller ordered the Air Canada crew to abort the landing.

From the vantage point of the Air Canada crew, four parallel surfaces appeared below them — from left to right they were taxiway F; runway 28L, which was closed; runway 28R, on which they were supposed to land, and taxiway C, where the other planes were waiting their turn to take off.

"I could see where you get lined up incorrectly, but once you start seeing lights on the runway you're not necessarily looking at a runway," said William Waldock, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He said investigators will look at "all the visual cues that might have confused them."

Chris Manno, an American Airlines pilot, said the Air Canada crew should have stopped their approach while they figured out why they were seeing lights from other planes on what they thought was the runway.

Taxiway landings are rare, and most of them involve small planes.

In February, actor Harrison Ford landed his single-engine propeller plane on a taxiway at John Wayne Airport in Southern California after narrowly missing an American Airlines plane with 100 passengers. The actor, an experienced pilot, realized his mistake immediately and was not punished by the FAA.

Some airliners have mistakenly landed or taken off from taxiways.

In 2006 a Continental Airlines jet passed through rain that reduced visibility before landing on a taxiway in Newark, New Jersey. The captain took control of the plane from the co-pilot when he realized the mistake.

In 2009, a Delta Air Lines jet landed on a taxiway in Atlanta. In 2015, an Alaska Airlines jet landed safely on a taxiway between runways in Seattle.

Traveling on airlines has become remarkably safe. No U.S. airline has had a fatal accident since 2009.

The last fatal accident involving a foreign airline on U.S. soil was the 2013 crash at San Francisco International Airport of an Asiana Boeing 777 carrying 307. Three passengers died after the plane's tail struck a seawall while landing on runway 28L — next to the runway where the Air Canada jet landed.

The Asiana pilots came in too low and were unable to execute the kind of go-around that the Air Canada jet did.

Throughout aviation history, deadly accidents have led to safety improvements. As fatal crashes have become rare, "the only way to get better is to learn from close calls and incidents," Wallace said.

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