As investigators dig deeper into the near-miss collision at San Fran’s International Airport last week, a number of aviation experts have shared their thoughts on the incident.
Pilots of an Air Canada plane coming in to land at SFO mistakenly lined up the taxiway instead of the runway, which was queued with four other passenger-filled planes.
Experts said it could’ve been one of the “greatest aviation disasters in history”, with the plane narrowly avoiding the crash by about 30 metres.
“This was a clear crew error with many facets, I suspect,” former Chief Pilot for Delta, Alan Price, told AP.
Those many facets include the fact that runways are lined with rows of white lights, while another system of lights on the edge of the runway are also in place to help pilots during their descent.
Taxiways have blue lights and green lights down the centre to help distinguish at night.
“The lighting is different for good reason,” Steven Wallace, a former Director of Accident Investigations at the Federal Aviation Administration, told AP, as reported by news.com.au.
“Some of these visual mistakes are hard to believe, but a crew gets fixated with thinking ‘That’s the runway,’ and it’s not.”
“I could see where you get lined up incorrectly, but once you start seeing lights on the runway you’re not necessarily looking at a runway,” said William Waldock, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, per news.com.au.
He believed investigators would look at “all the visual cues that might have confused them”.
Meanwhile, Chris Manno, an American Airlines pilot, said the Air Canada crew should have stopped their approach while they figured out why they were seeing lights from other planes on what they thought was the runway.
Another flaw in the near-miss was that the pilots made a radio transmission saying they could see lights on the runway, which should’ve allegedly raised concerns, writes AP.
And another piece of technology typically found in modern aircraft, known as a glide scope technology, should’ve helped the crew correctly line up the runway in the first place, apparently.
According to safety consultant and former airline pilot, John Cox, when the investigators of the incident interview the pilots, they will focus on “why they did not realise the sequence of errors”.
Per AP via news.com.au, Cox said investigators will look at the pilots’ use of automated-flying systems, manual flying skills, and what their communication and responses were as they grew increasingly uncertain.
Canada’s transportation safety board said the Air Canada aircraft got as low as 100 feet (about 30 metres), just skimming the planes queued on the taxiway.
A United Airlines pilot radioed in, saying, “United One, Air Canada flew directly over us.”
The AC pilots quickly pulled their Airbus A320 up after air traffic controllers ordered them to abandon the landing and come back around to line up and try again.
An Air Canada spokeswoman told news.com.au she couldn’t comment as the investigation is underway.