FAA, NTSB Release Ongoing Investigation Data From Runway Close Calls at SFO

May 2, 2018

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Nine months after Air Canada Flight 759’s near-disastrous close call, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has determined that most runway mishaps at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) are due to pilot error, according to The East Bay Times. In addition to the Flight 759 case, The East Bay Times also summarized four other instances in which accidents or near-accidents have occurred at SFO within the last 18 months.

“San Francisco seems to have more of these issues,” said Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts who has been following the SFO incidents. “San Francisco is very, very unique because its runways are so close together that it can create a problem. It was designed years ago for a small operator, but now it’s one of the biggest in the world.”

In recent months, SFO has significantly improved its ground radar system and closed down a confusing taxiway, according to the East Bay Times. Meanwhile, the federal agency deployed a special team earlier this year to evaluate why planes landing at SFO consistently line up for the wrong runways and taxiways.

Amongst other information, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the following security camera video Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation. The chilling action takes place toward the top third of the video screen, with the dramatic moment of truth around the 1:09 mark.

On July 8, 2017, Air Canada’s Flight 759 nearly struck four other aircraft while landing at SFO after a five-hour flight from Toronto (YYZ). The pilot, who had more than 20,000 hours of flight time, told the air traffic control tower that he saw aircraft lights on the runway, and the controller confirmed the Airbus A320 was clear to land on Runway 28R. Instead, the pilot lined up with Taxiway C, which runs parallel to the 12,000 foot–long runway, on which four other airliners were waiting to take off — including a United Boeing 787-9 bound for Singapore.

After a terrifying near-collision with the other aircraft, the A320 pulled up with less than 50 feet of clearance to spare. The air traffic controller instructed the pilots to perform a “go-around” — a move where the aircraft aborts the landing, climbs again and circles the airport before attempting the landing again. The FAA later determined that the pilot had lined up incorrectly, and had been in the process of landing the Airbus A320 manually (without instruments). The twin-engine jet landed safely on its second attempt.

The East Bay Times, which has diligently covered the Flight 759 incident and its aftermath as well as a number of similar incidents, has previously accused both Air Canada and the NTSB of delaying the investigation with tardy reporting although the accusation was later refuted.

Featured image by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images.

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