Harrison Ford landed on Taxiway Charlie at John Wayne Airport last month. Everyone who knows I am a pilot and an aviation safety columnist contacted me as soon as they heard about Ford.
My mother even chimed in, certain the actor should be stripped of his license, as this was his fourth accident. I explained that two were mechanical failures, so they don’t count, particularly when he successfully landed both aircraft without loss of life, or property damage.A week after the event, I subbed in for a class of flight students. They asked about the incident.
“Do you think he landed on Taxiway C intentionally?” They’d all heard the audio, so they all answered “no.” “
Do you think he was engaging in any criminal activity during the incident?” Some joked about Hollywood types, but most considered Ford to be pretty straight-laced, so again, “no.”
Finally, I asked the students if they thought the actor would voluntarily confess to his transgression. They unanimously concluded from the ATC audio that he had already confessed.
That’s when I wrote “NASA report” and “Aviation Safety Reporting System” on the board. Then I asked the 10 students to raise their hands if they’d ever heard of either. Only one had. She works for the FAA, though, so…
A good friend of mine, a pilot living in Southern California, wondered what should be done. I suggested he find out if Harrison Ford has a Twitter account. If so, “follow him” and tweet out to the actor about filing a NASA report.
Does Harrison Ford know about the ASRS program? I don’t know. Our tweets went unanswered. Does the infamous Taxiway Charlie landing make him eligible to submit one?
Let’s look at the facts:
“The FAA considers the filing of a report with NASA concerning an incident or occurrence involving a violation of 49 U.S.C. subtitle VII or the 14 CFR to be indicative of a constructive attitude. Such an attitude will tend to prevent future violations. Accordingly, although a finding of violation may be made, neither a civil penalty nor certificate suspension will be imposed if:
- The violation was inadvertent and not deliberate;
- The violation did not involve a criminal offense, accident or action;
- The person has not been found in any prior FAA enforcement action to have committed a violation of 49 U.S.C. subtitle VII, or any regulation promulgated there for a period of 5 years prior; and
- The person proves that, within 10 days after the violation, or date when the person became aware or should have been aware of the violation, he or she completed and delivered or mailed a written report of the incident or occurrence to NASA.”
I don’t know if Harrison Ford has committed a violation of 49 U.S.C., subtitle VII in the last five years. If he hasn’t, then regardless of his celebrity status and regardless of the extremely high profile nature of the incident, he qualifies, within the 10-day limitation.
Why does this matter? Because you, too, might one day find out after the fact that your little aviation snafu ended up on LiveATC.net or someone’s Facebook Live feed.
If the FAA becomes aware of it that way, they are obligated to take appropriate action. They might even launch an investigation before you’ve finished tying down your airplane.
No matter. Even with an investigation underway, if you meet all the conditions listed above, you can still file a NASA report and possibly gain immunity from an enforcement action.
I hope Ford filed a NASA. His would add to the thin body of knowledge on taxiway landings that currently exists.
I found only 19 NASA reports on the subject. The reports broke down into two broad categories — visibility and situational awareness. Of the 19, 12 were filed by air traffic controllers.
One controller submitted a NASA report after it appeared a Mooney Allegro may have landed on a taxiway. After clearing the Mooney to land, “I observed the aircraft on a 3/4-mile final and checked to see that the gear was down. I looked down to observe my wind instruments and gave the pilot a wind check.”
The controller then looked down at his strip bay before looking back up for the Mooney.
“I couldn’t find the Allegro in the ground clutter that is the visual background for that final from the Tower POV. Then I realized the aircraft was rolling out on Taxiway A.”
It wasn’t clear to the controller whether the pilot had landed on the taxiway or just exited the runway very early. The controller decided to wait for the pilot to say something about the landing instead of querying him. The pilot never did.
In his conclusion, the controller wrote, “I think it would have been better to question the pilot, just in case he had landed on the taxiway. Then we would have had the opportunity to educate him on paying attention to the movement area markings on final.”
Concern over visibility from the newly constructed tower was one reason listed for filing the NASA.
Both a King Air pilot and the local controller filed separate NASAs over the same taxiway landing at dusk.
“Tower told me to continue on the right base for Runway 32 but to plan on passing through final and turn back to re-intercept final again for Runway 32 in order to provide spacing for slower traffic on one mile final,” wrote the pilot.
After the slower traffic conflict resolved, ATC cleared the King Air to land.
“When re-intercepting the final for Runway 32, I asked if I could land long in order to taxi clear at A4, which they approved.”
“As I watched the aircraft,” wrote the controller, “I thought it was strange that it was floating so long over the runway. Then I realized the aircraft landed on Taxiway A. Thankfully no other aircraft were on Taxiway A.”
The pilot wrote: “I approached 400 feet AGL and intercepted the final but did not realize that I had lined up on Taxiway A until deep in the flare. I was shocked to see the yellow centerline, and it delayed my reaction time so that I was unable to perform the go-around before the plane settled.”
The King Air pilot rolled out on Taxiway A and at A4 reported to Ground Control. The controller concluded that he needed to increase vigilance in scanning all runways to prevent a repeat of the incident. The King Air pilot offered no remedy.
This incident occurred at dusk. Before the approach, the King Air had been IFR in IMC. He canceled IFR once identifying the field in VFR conditions.
During ATC vectoring, he was cleared for a visual approach. Subsequently, he was asked to perform a modified S turn (“plan on passing through final and turn back to re-intercept…”). Even though the pilot states that he, in fact, re-intercepted final for Runway 32, it’s probable the pilot referenced landmarks and not his instruments on final.
Had he scanned his panel one last time he might have seen a full-scale deflection of his localizer needle, just as one airline crew saw during their taxiway landing.
“Inbound on the arrival, we were told to expect Runway 16R, which we had briefed at altitude prior to descent. The weather was VFR. Inside the FAF on a visual approach to Runway 16R, Tower asked if we would like to land on Runway 16C. We agreed to land on Runway 16C and the pilot flying lined up on a taxiway, thinking it was Runway 16C. As the pilot monitoring, I also looked out and assumed that we were lined up on Runway 16C.”
As a safety measure, the pilot monitoring put in the ILS frequency for Runway 16C in the flying pilot’s navigation radio as backup. Close in, the localizer disappeared and only the glideslope portion of the flight director remained.
“I tried to figure out why the localizer information was off, since I had not remembered any NOTAMs to that effect. Approaching 500 feet, I focused my attention on monitoring the flare and landing. Upon landing, the Tower informed us that we had landed on a taxiway, which, by that time, was clearly evident to all.”
One reason the FAA gathers data through NASA reports is so it can address deficiencies and fix defects in the National Airspace System and its associated facilities.
Three separate NASA reports relate to one airport, KDVT, Arizona’s Phoenix Deer Valley Airport. Two controllers and one pilot submitted the reports. In all three, one striking conclusion was that the taxiway looked like a runway.
One controller suggested that a higher Tower cab would help controllers maintain situational awareness. Another controller strongly suggested painting a yellow line on the taxiway to demarcate it.
The pilot also strongly suggested that Tower consider turning on the Runway End Identifier Lights when traffic is landing on Runway 25, directly into the sun. These three reports were from the 1990s. A current Google image of KDVT shows yellow lines on the taxiways.