Events in which an aircraft lands or departs on the wrong runway, a taxiway or lands at the wrong airport tend to be among the highest-profile and most dangerous events in aviation. These events have been occurring at an average rate of about 24 per year, increasing to over 60 in 2016.
Notable examples include:
- Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), where a B737 landed on a parallel taxiway between two parallel runways.
- Boise Air Terminal/Gowen Field (BOI), where an A319 correctly read back the runway landing clearance but landed on the parallel runway.
- McCarran International (LAS), where an A320 was cleared to land runway 19R but landed on runway 19L.
- The common denominator for most wrong surface landings/departures was the lack of situational awareness, with closely-spaced parallel runways, off set parallel runways, or taxiways which run parallel with runway.
- Wintertime flying conditions, including:
- Sun lower on the horizon.
- Snow/water/ice on airport surfaces combined with lower visibility due to storms/fog.
- Closely-spaced parallel runways, Parallel runways with offset thresholds and a parallel taxiway abeam runway.
- Not comprehending/following the control instructions of Air Traffic Control (ATC).
- Controller workload or radar limitations which preclude timely intervention by ATC.
What can pilots do:
- Familiarize yourself with the airport to the maximum extent possible by reviewing pictures, maps and diagrams of the airport design.
- Look for offset runway thresholds, parallel runways (especially if closely-spaced), etc.
- Be familiar with the primary arrival runway.
- Be cognizant of adjacent or nearby airports, particularly ones with similar runways.
- Make sure all ATC instructions and clearances are clearly heard and understood. Make sure you give a proper read-back, if unsure, ask ATC to repeat the instructions or clearance again and don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything you feel requires clarification.
- Confirm that you have correctly identified the destination airport before reporting the airport/runway in sight, especially at night or when weather or environmental conditions might make precise identification more difficult.
Finally: Below are some depictions of what you may encounter during your flight. Remember to LOOK, LISTEN, and FOCUS -- the actions YOU take not only affect your safety, but also the safety of OTHERS.