06 August, 2017

59 feet from disaster - Air Canada

Just 59 feet, that's how close an Air Canada aircraft came to disaster whilst trying to land at San Francisco International Airport last month.  

The newly released data and photos show how terrifyingly close the Air Canada jet was to other aircraft when it suddenly had to pull up and abort its landing to avoid crashing into planes waiting on a taxiway at the airport.  

The arriving Air Canada pilots 'mistook' the taxiway for the runway parallel to it and flew their aircraft so close that it was just  59 feet, thats 18 metres above the ground before pulling up to do a go-around and  attempt another landing, 

59 feet is only marginally higher than the four aircraft that were queuing on the taxiway waiting to depart when  the when the incident occurred late at night on 7th July, this year.

Accordinging to an interim report issued by America's National Air Transportation  Safety Board last week, pilots in a United aircraft alerted air traffic controllers about the off-course jet. Just behind the United aircraft was a Philippine Airlines jet,  that crew rapidly switched on their plane’s landing lights in an apparent desperate last-ditch 'danger' signal to Air Canada.

The NTSB report said they have not yet determined the probable cause for the incident that came within 59 feet of being one of the aviation disasters in history.  Investigators report that as the Air Canada aircraft approached the taxiway, a little before midnight, it was so far off course that it did not appear on a radar system used to prevent runway collisions.  Currently, those systems were not designed to spot planes that are lined up to land on a taxiway as this was thought to be such a rare occurrence it wasn't necessary. However, the Federal Aviation Administration is working on modifications so they can, a spokesperson for the agency said. 

Both pilots of the Air Canada Airbus A320 jet were highly experienced aircrew, the captain, who was flying the A320 at the time, has more than 20,000 hours of flying time, while the co-pilot or first officer has around 10,000 hours.  The pilots told NTSB investigators “that they did not recall seeing aircraft on taxiway but that something did not look right to them,” 

Unfortunately, investigators could not hear what the Air Canada captain and first officer said to each other during the aborted landing because their conversation was recorded over on the cockpit voice recorder, when the plane made other flights the next day.

Air Canada have tried to keep the near disaster out of the public spotlight as much as possible, including issuing 'aggressive' emails to bloggers and reporters to dissuade them from reporting the incident. However, Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Air Canada, denied this and declined to comment as the investigation was still ongoing.