Federal Investigation Blames Delta Pilots for Landing at the Wrong Airport
Last July, Delta Flight 2845 from Minneapolis (MSP) to Rapid City (RAP) ended up landing on a runway about seven miles away — at Ellsworth Air Force Base (RCA). And now, just about a year later, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is blaming pilot error for the wrong airport landing.
The two South Dakota airports — Rapid City and Ellsworth Air Force Base — are located close to each other and, according to the Associated Press, the airfields have runways that nearly line up. The A320 took off from MSP carrying 130 passengers and landed at RCA instead of RAP. According to the Rapid City Journal, the passengers sat for about 2.5 hours at Ellsworth and were ordered to pull their window shades down so military personnel could walk through the cabin. After that time, the plane took off for the seven-mile trip to RAP.
At the time of the incident, it was under investigation by the NTSB and Delta, which was conducting an internal review. Now, the NTSB has released its findings that the pilots misidentified the runway as the result of excess altitude and failure to use all of the navigation information that was available to them. According to the AP, the crew knew of its mistake right before landing, however, they decided it was safest to complete the landing at RCA.
The NTSB's report said that pilot confusion between the two airports is fairly common, given how close in distance they are. However, the report also noted that air traffic controllers and crew usually catch any errors before landing on the wrong runway. Delta has not yet responded to comment.
At the time of the incident last July, Delta said that the crew was taken off duty while the NTSB investigated it. In addition, Delta offered an apology to passengers on board. The good news is that landings at the wrong airport don't happen all too often. Three years ago, the AP conducted a study and found that since the early 1990s, at least 150 flights — both cargo and commercial passenger — had landed at the wrong airport or had started to land at the wrong airport and realized their mistake in time.
H/T: Palm Beach Post