Accident investigators have opened a formal probe of an incident last month during which a Delta Air Lines Inc. plane lined up to touch down on a taxiway instead of a runway in Atlanta.
The Boeing Co. 737-900 flew to the left of the runway where it was attempting to land in cloudy conditions, only aborting the landing and climbing after it came within 60 feet (18 meters) of the ground and had passed the start of the taxiway, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a press release Wednesday.
The copilot, who was flying the plane, told investigators he was trying to stay lined up with the runway and over-corrected to the left. When they reached a height of 200 feet and couldn’t see the runway, the captain ordered them to abort the landing, the NTSB said.
The air-traffic tower was obscured in clouds and the controllers couldn’t see the plane. A controller also ordered the pilots to abort their landing after a runway warning system sounded an alert, according to the report.
The incident is the latest case involving pilots mistakenly trying to land on a paved strip used for taxiing aircraft instead of the parallel runway, creating the potential of a deadly collision on the ground. In Atlanta another unidentified airliner was on the taxiway at the time, but the Delta plane didn’t pass directly overhead after it cut short the landing process and climbed away from the airport, the NTSB said.
An Air Canada plane came within feet of several planes waiting to take off in San Francisco on July 7, according to the NTSB. The Canadian Airbus SE A320 passed over four planes on the ground after mistakenly trying to land on a taxiway that was next to its assigned runway.
In that incident, the plane passed as low as 59 feet from the ground and the tail of the lead plane it flew over, a Boeing Co. 787, is almost 56 feet high, according to NTSB and the manufacturer.
The NTSB investigated a similar case in 2009 in Atlanta when a Delta Air Lines Inc. plane actually landed on a taxiway. There were no other planes on the taxi strip at the time and no one was hurt. The safety board concluded the crew had been fatigued after an all-night flight and it made recommendations to improve safety technology.
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