Following two well-publicized incidents within two months, the latest National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Safety Alert urges pilots to check and confirm their destination airport before committing to landing.
“Without adequate preparation, robust monitoring, and cross-checking of position using all available resources, flight crews may misidentify a nearby airport that they see during the approach to their destination airport,” the alert states.
As the incidents, both involving air carriers making night approaches, demonstrated, “Air traffic controllers may not detect a wrong airport landing in time to intervene because of other workload or radar coverage limitations.”
The risk of an accident when landing at the wrong airport increases with the mismatch between the aircraft’s operational requirements and the available pavement. Only a “hard application of the brakes” kept the Boeing 737 from going off the end of the 3,738-foot-long runway in the first incident. In the second incident, the Boeing 747-400LCF landed without extreme measures on the 6,101-foot-long runway the crew thought was their 12,000-foot-long destination.
To avoid landing at the wrong airport, the alert recommends that pilots verify the aircraft position relative to the desired destination, and use all available instrumentation to verify they will land at the correct airport. Dedicate extra vigilance when identifying a destination at night, especially when there are other airports nearby, NTSB officials say.
To verify the destination when making a visual approach, crews should fly it in conjunction with “the most precise navigational aids available,” according to the NTSB alert. This would have helped the 747, which air traffic control cleared for an RNAV GPS approach. It opted for a visual approach after it misidentified another airport as the desired destination.
Ultimately, the NTSB recommends that pilots “confirm that you have correctly identified the destination airport before reporting the airport or runway in sight.”