05 April, 2021

Did an Ethiopian Airlines 737 cargo plane really land at the wrong airport?

Did an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 cargo aircraft really land at the wrong airport on Sunday, or was it just a precautionary landing over a safety issue?

The jet's arrival caught many people working at the airport by surprise when it made a nice controlled landing at Copperbelt International Airport, in the city of  Ndola, which is still under final construction.  The aircraft,  a Boeing 737-800, registered ET-AYL, a new arrival to the Ethiopian fleet, which previously flew with Pegasus Airlines before being converted to a freighter aircraft.

The aircraft had been scheduled to fly into Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport, the current international airport in Ndola, around 9 miles away from Copperbelt.  According to local people on the scene, once the captain had been advised he was not at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport, he taxied back around and took off without further incident.

Far from being unique,  this incident was nearly repeated by another aircraft later the same day, from the same airline.   ET-AQP, was another 737 was operating flight  ET871 scheduled to operate from the carriers home base of Ababa to Ndola. However, this time the pilot made an approach to the airport, aborting the landing before circling the airfield, before readjusting its flight plan and headed to the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport for a safe landing. 

An investigation is underway and is said to be looking at a number of different possibilities for confusion, one being pilot error, another being an inadvertent activation of the new airports navigational aids and equipment. Miscommunication between Zambian air traffic controllers and the aircraft concerned is another possibility being looked into. 

There have been no reports of any safety issues with either aircraft,  both of which have continued with normal scheduled operations. We have approached Ethiopian Airlines for a comment. 

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