WRONG SURFACE LANDING INCIDENTS

Acknowledgements: FAA Safety Notice Number: NOTC7400

Ed. Note: Whilst the following piece relates to flight activity of all kinds in the USA, we feel that GA pilots world-wide can benefit from refreshing their minds on the subject, particularly when using towered, multi-runway airfields.

But please remember that even an airfield with only a single runway is open to such occurrences if lack of concentration results in us landing at the wrong end!  

“Recently, the FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) has advised of an increase in, “Wrong Surface Landing Incidents”.
Incidents include:
1.    Landing at the wrong airport
2.    Landing on a runway other than the one specified in the ATC clearance (frequently after the pilot provides a correct read back)
3.    Landing on a Taxiway
Investigations of these incidents reveal some common factors that pilots should be aware of:
1.    Airports with parallel runways are prone to wrong surface landings
2.    Parallel runways with different dimensions and/or surface colour may confuse pilots
3.    Offset parallel runways may be problematic due to the potential of the longer or wider runway being more prominent
4.    Airports with similar configurations and in close proximity are prone to wrong airport landings
5.    Air Traffic Controllers do their best to monitor aircraft position but cannot always visually confirm which runway a pilot is lined up with (particularly with close parallel runways)
6.    Pilots with previous experience or knowledge at an airport may be prone to “Expectation Bias” which will lead them to identify the runway they are expecting rather than the runway assigned
7.    Pilots’ assigned to runways that are rarely used may have difficulty identifying the correct surface and are prone to error even if they use the airport frequently
8.    Cockpit distractions during approach and landing phase of flight are frequent factors in wrong surface landings
9.    Pilots of any rating or experience level may be prone to a wrong surface landing, but reports indicate that pilots with less experience are more frequently cited
10. Reduction in visibility including night time conditions or the glare from the sun can create visual challenges that lead to errors

When approaching a towered airport for landing an assigned runway is issued, followed by the pilot’s confirmation of visual identification of the surface. Subsequently a landing clearance is issued by ATC to be followed by a landing on the correct runway. The goal of this sequence is to ensure safe separation of aircraft at locations with high concentrations of air traffic.  In each phase of the process there are chances of miscommunication and visual mistakes which can lead to the aircraft arriving on the wrong surface.  The subsequent risks involve traffic conflicts and possible collisions which are unacceptable.

Pilots can use the following to help avoid wrong surface landings:
  1. Be prepared! Pre-flight planning should include familiarisation with destination and alternate airports to include airport location, runway layout, NOTAMs, weather conditions (to include anticipated landing runway
  2. All pilots should recognise that they are capable of a wrong surface landing and take steps to prevent errors on every approach and landing
  3. Reduce cockpit distractions during approach and landing phase of flight.  Avoid unnecessary conversation with passengers.  Full attention to flying duties!
  4. Have a technique to verify you are approaching the correct airport and are lined up with the correct runway and practice this on every flight
  5. Use visual cues such as verifying right versus left runways; runway magnetic orientation; known landmarks versus the location of the airport or runway
  6. Be on the lookout for “Expectation Bias”.   If approaching a familiar airport, ATC might clear you for a different approach or landing runway. Be careful not to fall back on your past experiences.  Verify!
  7. Pay attention to in-flight updates including ATIS and possible runway changes based on wind or other factors
  8. Always include the assigned landing runway and your call sign in the read back to a landing clearance
  9. Prior to entering the pattern, exercise care and verify with ATC if there is any doubt as you get closer to the airport
  10. Utilise your GPS (if available) to verify proper runway alignment
  11. Request assistance from ATC if experiencing any disorientation or if unsure of position
  12. On short final, make final verification of correct runway and ensure that no vehicles or aircraft are present
  13. If you are ever in doubt of your approach or landing on the assigned runway, perform a go-around procedure and promptly notify ATC


All human beings are capable of error, and mistakes can happen when we least expect them. It is vitally important for all pilots to prepare themselves and take proactive steps to prevent error and also to recognise it when it occurs, followed by immediate corrective action”.

FLY SAFE!
Tony Birth