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‘Change blindness’ triggered takeoff on dark runway

January 24, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Workload stress and a phenomenon known as ‘change blindness’ contributed to a passenger aircraft beginning its takeoff run from a New South Wales airport in the dark with the runway lights switched off.

Outlining the incident in a new report, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said a JetGo Australia Embraer aircraft operated scheduled passenger flight JG65 from Tamworth, New South Wales, to Brisbane on 19 August 2016. The take-off was at night-time, about three and a half hours after sunset.

“At 2104 Eastern Standard Time, the aircraft began to taxi from parking bay 1 to runway 30 right (30R) with the taxiway and runway lights not activated. The captain taxied the aircraft onto the runway and immediately began the take-off run.

Embraer aircraft at Tamworth NSW, showing runway lights not activated

“During the take-off run, at a speed of about 70 knots, the first officer detected the runway lights were not illuminated and activated them using the pilot activated lighting.

“On 28 August 2016, the same aircraft operated scheduled passenger flight JG65 from Tamworth to Brisbane. At 1937, the aircraft began to taxi from parking bay 1 to runway 30R. As the aircraft taxied, the runway and taxiway lights extinguished.

“The flight crew continued to taxi and lined up on runway 30R. The aircraft began the take-off run and departed runway 30R with the runway lights not activated.”

The ATSB pointed out that no persons were injured and the aircraft was not damaged, but the incidents demonstrated the impact workload stress can have on operations.

“The short taxi created a high workload situation which impacted on the flight crews’ ability to detect the extinguished runway lighting.

“The incident on the 28 August also highlights the hazards associated with change blindness, inattention blindness and expectation bias.

“Change blindness occurs when a person does not notice that something is different about the visual environment relative to before the change. Research has shown that in some cases, quite dramatic changes are not detected, particularly if changes occur when the observer is not looking at the relevant part of the visual environment at the time.

“In this incident the flight crew did not detect the runway lights extinguish during taxi prior to departure.”

Edited by Peter Needham

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