Pilot mistakes road for airport

Aircraft: Cirrus SR20. Injuries: None. Location: Brooksville, Fla. Aircraft damage: Substantial.

What reportedly happened: The pilot was not familiar with the area and was using his GPS to find the airport.

He attempted to land on what he thought was the runway. During the landing roll, as the wings hit mailboxes and fences, he realized that he had landed on a residential street and the runway was about 1.5 miles to the west.

Probable cause: The pilot’s incorrect identification of the runway, which resulted in an off-airport landing and subsequent collision with objects.

NTSB Identification: ERA12CA082

This November 2011 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.


  1. Chris Martin says

    Please, I am in no way shape or form defending the mistake this pilot made. But I have flown into the airport that the pilot was trying to land in and would like to make a comment about this.

    According to a TV news report I found on this incident, the pilot was a Chinese student which already had his PPL but was probably building time to obtain further licenses 9I am making this assumption since the article called him a student). In any case, he was flying to Pilot Country (X05) and this airport is an airpark with a single runway and houses on the edges of the runway. I have to say that it does look like landing on a wide street :) The airport is a little challenging to find without GPS because it is surrounded by trees and you have to be relatively close to see it. So I can see how the pilot became a wee bit confused.

    Now, with all that said, this licensed pilot should have used his GPS to find and overfly the airport (btw, I don’t believe that the GPS made a 1.5 mile position error) and then visually complete the pattern and landing to this airport. C’mon, that street he landed in had to look awfully narrow on short final! And yes, no markings but maybe being from another country he thought that an airport with houses maybe has not markings :P, go figure.

    As a CFI I have to agree with other posters that new pilot trainees need to be exposed to more real-life scenarios and not just “imagine this is a short runway” and then land in a 10,000′ runway. It then makes a big difference when you go and make your first really short field landing. Back in the 80’s, when I used to instruct full time, we took students to real short runways and also practice loosing all avionics and having to find your way back. Back then FSS loved to get DF Steering requests.

    A few months ago I was toiling around with my airplane and heard a pilot with obvious foreign accent (we have a lot of foreign students pilots and instructors in our area) declare an emergency because his GPS went out and he was lost. Well, believe me when I say that in this coastal area all you have to do is fly east (from the estimated position he was reporting) and you will hit the city sooner than later (the city goes north-south continuously for 100 miles!). At that point it is easy to border the city to the south and find the airport (the airport is at the southern most tip when the city ends).

    Yes, people are indeed becoming very dependent on electronics and, although not necessarily a bad thing, instructors need to make sure they are training the pilots to deal with problems when these systems fail, are not reliable or they simply disagree with common (well, common sense also needs to be part of the training for this to be relevant). Just look at the Asiana crash at SFO for a good example of how bad things are getting. What happened with “check your airspeed” during approach. I guess now is “set the auto-throttle and forget about the ASI”.


    • Mike says

      Hmmmm, an Asian pilot, perhaps he was trained by same pilots that ‘landed’ short at KSFO who also taught him to blame the equipment when all else fails?

      Sorry, if my sarcasm isn’t deemed to be polically correct…. but damn I can’t see any excuse being valid anymore than the excuses given for SFO. Yes, maybe he should try sleep apnea, the FAA might buy that one.

      • Sarah A says


        Your comments are not all that far off the mark. In most asian countries, if not all, they do not have GA as a source to tap for new pilots so they send people over here with no aircraft experience to be trained as pilots. Their training is very directed towards getting them ready for the airline in the minimum amount of time so the lessons stick to airline type operations. At SFO they did not have an operational ILS to follow for vertical guidance. When a KAL crew hit the top of a mountain while executing a non-precision approach it was much the same. They really need to spend more time teaching these future airline crews how to really fly an aircraft and not just drive a bus.

    • Duane says

      Chris – I’ve landed a couple times at this pilot’s intended destination (X05 – Pilot Country Airport) and I agree that it’s relatively difficult to find without a GPS unless you’re already pretty familiar with the surroundings (which seems unlikely for this particular foreigner). Being an airpark, X05 doesn’t have the typical public airport hangar complex, terminal, or large apron, and is indeed surrounded by single family homes. So it’s easy to mistake an air park like this for just another residential community (except for the runway 18/36 markings, and its relatively wide runway, for an air park – at 75 feet).

      However, there are some airparks that have runways that are not any or much wider than a typical residential street – 30 feet or less.

      This pilot in this report made a mistake that is easy to make, and it can’t just be blamed on over-reliance on GPS so much as the pilot mis-using the GPS, and then failing to verify the airport with his eyeballs outside the cockpit. Overflying any untowered airport one is not familiar with is always a good practice.

      I’ve done a fair bit of backcountry flying and one of the standard safe practices for the backcountry is to overfly the field before attempting a landing – to both ascertain the condition of the runway surface, and to see if there are any large animals frolicking or grazing on the runway. Even at rural or suburban non-towered air parks or airports it’s not uncommon to encounter deer on the runway (I have – at X05, in fact).

  2. Carl G says

    I used to ferry planes to Florida from Wichita back in the 80’s. The first time was at night with nothing but a map. (NO RADIO) x-country from the plains states deaf and dumb as we called it. I found Brooksville by myself at dark time. As a private pilot back then it was a fun challenge to do these things. What are we teaching people to do now?

  3. John says

    Andy and Brett, then you guys are missing out on a lot of really neat places to land. Look up White Plains in South Carolina. 25′ wide. When we fly in for the SC Breakfast Club the residents even grade the landings!
    Just because the pavement is narrow doesn’t mean it isn’t a great place to land. You just land in the center of the runway.

    • Greg W says

      It is worse than that. I did not read what license the pilot was flying with, but, note this from the NTSB report. “while in the vicinity of an unfamiliar airport, he utilized his global positioning system (GPS) to align the airplane with the runway.” So the pilot should not be “head down” looking at a GPS when he should be looking outside for the airport, But it gets much worse. Also from the NTSB report, “According to a representative of the flight school, the standard operating procedure required all pilots to utilize the GPS for all approaches.”That should get the FAA to look closely at the school and instructor as even if IFR once out of IMC the pilot is required to “see and avoid” that should include ROADS. If the NTSB report is correct in the GPS statements, then this school is setting the stage for many accidents to come.

      • Sarah A says

        Sounds like a flight school that does contract pilot training for foreign airlines. They are teeching these people to fly from one big airport to another in an IFR like environment and are not interested in the finer points of flying in the general aviation environment. That explains why this pilot, a student, was flying around in an SR22, so not a case of a rich dumb pilot, just a poorly trained student.

  4. steve says

    Just another repetition of entitlement … “I paid half-a-mil for this airplane, and this GPS can take me anywhere.” — even with maybe a hundred hours of total flight experience. For some odd reason, I’m more careful with my 50-year-old Cessna 150, as I realize it has its limitations …

  5. Brett S says

    Pro-tip for you new pilots: even when runways have no markings, they should be wider than your small GA airplane. If your wing is going to hang off the edge, it’s not a runway.

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