August 24, 2017

Taxiway Mishap A Teaching Moment


The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says airlines can learn from the “severity” of errors made by an Air Canada crew landing at San Francisco in early July. The A320 crew mistook a parallel taxiway with the active runway on a VFR approach at midnight on July 7 and didn’t go around until ordered by the tower controller. The airplane, which was on a flight from Toronto, was at 81 feet AGL over the east end of the taxiway when the abort call came. It descended to 59 feet before climbing out. There were four aircraft on the taxiway at the time but it appears from surveillance photos that the aircraft was at its lowest in a large gap between the second and third aircraft. The U.S. media has made much of the fact that the 59-foot low point was just four feet higher than the height of the tail of a Boeing 787 on the taxiway.

Nevertheless, the mishap has caught the attention of the flying world, including the corner office at Air Canada, where training methods and standards are being reviewed for an airline that is considered by some to be among the best run in the world in terms of air operations. The aftermath of the mishap has also caused controversy. Because the incident was not considered reportable under FAA protocol, U.S. authorities didn’t even find out about it until three days later after someone sent a San Jose newspaper a copy of the tower tapes. By then, the cockpit voice recorder had been taped over several times and the crew and airplane were long gone from San Francisco. The pilots did return to SFO to be interviewed by investigators but the FAA report is likely the last word on the matter from the authorities.