A pilot has narrowly avoided killing around 1000 people after he nearly landed a passenger plane on a taxiway where four other aircraft were waiting for takeoff.
An Air Canada plane “inadvertently” lined up for the wrong strip at San Francisco International Airport on Friday night, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) confirmed on Tuesday (US time).
The pilot was cleared to land on Runway 28-Right, but lined up for Taxiway-C — which runs parallel to the runway.
The jet came just 175 feet (53 metres) from the taxiway before another pilot asked what he was doing, local newspaper Mercury News reported.
An air traffic controller told the jet to “go around” and make another approach. The plane then landed safely without incident.
In audio of the near miss, the pilot attempted to confirm its landing strip.
“Just want to confirm, this is Air Canada 759. We see some lights on the runway there. Confirming good to land?” the pilot said in the audio supplied to Mercury News.
“Air Canada 759 confirmed cleared to land Runway 28-Right … There is no one on 28-Right but you,” a controller said.
An unidentified voice, presumed to belong to a pilot on the taxiway, then interrupted.
“Where is this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”
In a message to the air traffic control tower, a United Airlines pilot said, “Air Canada flew directly over us”.
“Yeah, I saw that guys,” a controller replied.
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Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines captain, told Mercury News the incident could have been “the greatest aviation disaster in history”.
But Adam Susz, a pilot and treasurer of the Australian and International Pilot Association (AIPA), told The New Daily this kind of incident has happened before.
Mr Susz said it was possible to inadvertently approach a taxiway, and that two jets had accidentally landed on an empty taxiway over the last five years.
“It is very rare, but it can be done.”
Mr Susz said taxiways are sometimes converted into runways, and they can often look interchangeable — especially at night.
“This had a safe outcome for everyone,” Mr Susz said.
“I think it’s important to realise that in this situation the system worked.”
He emphasised a full investigation was needed before speculating further on the incident.
The FAA is investigating the distance between the Air Canada aircraft and the jets on Taxiway-C.
A San Francisco Airport spokesperson said the airport was in close contact with the FAA.
“As the investigation is still ongoing, we will not be making any additional statements on the incident at this time,” the spokesperson told The New Daily in a statement.
The New Daily has contacted Air Canada for comment.