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Cockpit exchange illuminates landing at wrong airport

March 28, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Recordings of an exchange between air traffic controllers and the crew of a Southwest Airlines jet shine new light on what pilots say after they land at the wrong airport.

Fortunately that sort of mistake doesn’t happen often, so such exchanges are rare.

“I assume I’m not at your airport,” a veteran Southwest Airlines pilot radioed to controllers at Branson Airport, as it dawned on him that he was at the wrong airport.

Branson in Missouri (BKG) was where the B737-700 flight from Chicago was meant to be heading. But the flight had instead landed (safely and without incident) at a different airport nearby, Taney County Airport (PLK), which happens to have a much shorter runway and no control tower.

“4013, um, have you landed?” air traffic control responds to the Southwest pilot, according to recordings released by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

“Yeah,” says the pilot, after a brief pause. 250x250

The controller then calls another air traffic control facility in the area to ask about the plane, and this exchange takes place:

“Did you watch Southwest land?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Did you see it come here? They’re saying it landed at the wrong airport.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Yeah, no, I’m not.”

The plane from Chicago had actually landed several kilometres miles away at Taney County airport.

Landing at the wrong airport is a tricky mistake for a flight crew to explain to passengers – particularly if the runway is shorter than expected and the pilot has to slam on the brakes to avoid going over a cliff, which some say is more or less what happened.

Forbes magazine quoted a passenger at the time who said the flight landed “very abruptly with the pilot applying the brakes very hard. We smelled burnt rubber from the stop.” That was perhaps because the runway at the wrong airport is only about half the length of the runway at the right airport.

Passenger Scott Scheiffer, a tax lawyer from Dallas, told Forbes the atmosphere on landing was quite convivial “but we haven’t heard anything from the pilot”.

Scheiffer added that it was only after leaving the aircraft that passengers grasped the gravity of the situation, noting “we have all deplaned from @SouthwestAir 4013, and the mood is sombre now that we realised we were 40 feet [12 metres] from the edge of a cliff”.

The flight was carrying 124 passengers and a crew of five. A passenger said the pilot kept repeating over the public address system: “We apologise for the inconvenience”.

Last November, another US plane landed at the wrong airport. A 747 Dreamlifter, a huge cargo plane and one of just four in the world, was flying from New York’s Kennedy International Airport to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas.

That plane, operated by Atlas Air, landed by mistake at Colonel James Jabara Airport, which is near McConnell but smaller. Its runway is 1859 metres long and not designed to handle B747s.

Reports said the Atlas pilot was “surprised” to be informed by an air traffic controller that he had landed at the wrong airport. “Uh, yes sir, we just landed at the other airport,” the pilot said sheepishly.

Written by : Peter Needham

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