San Francisco

Air Canada Plane Mistakenly Lines Up to Land on Taxiway at San Francisco International Airport: FAA

The "near miss" could have been the worst aviation disaster in history, an aviation expert said

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched an investigation into an Air Canada plane which narrowly averted an aviation disaster after almost landing on a crowded taxiway instead of its designated runway at San Francisco International Airport Friday, the agency confirmed Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the close call, which they described as "rare," and has the aviation industry buzzing. The NTSB, an independent U.S. federal government agency charged with determining the probable cause of accidents and promoting transportation safety, launched their investigation on July 7, the same day the incident took place. Investigators are not yet on the ground at SFO, but are expected to arrive in the next few days.      

Airbus A320 had been cleared to land on Runway 28R just before midnight, but the pilot inadvertently "lined up" to land on Taxiway C, which runs parallel to Runway 28R, according to a statement from Federal Aviation Administration officials.

An animation that is based on real data from the Air Canada flight shows just how close the pilot was to landing in the wrong area just before midnight Friday at San Francisco International Airport. You can see the flight approaching the airport and then you see the altitude drop as the plane makes a beeline for a taxiway.

In an audio recording of conversations between air traffic control and pilots, the Air Canada pilot tells air traffic control he sees other lights on the runway before being told there are no other planes on 28R. When an air traffic controller realizes the plane was headed for the taxiway, he prompts the plane to abort its landing attempt and try again.

A United Airlines pilot is heard saying "United One, Air Canada just flew directly over us."

Another voice is heard saying, "Where's this guy going? He's on the taxiway."

Flight AC759 from Toronto circled around and landed without incident, the FAA said.

There were four aircraft lined up on Taxiway C loaded with passengers and fuel at the time of the incident, waiting for departure, according to the FAA. An aviation expert told the Mercury News the "near miss" could have been the worst aviation disaster in history. 

The Air Canada flight was carrying 135 passengers.

The FAA is investigating the distance between the Air Canada aircraft and the jets that were lined up on Taxiway C.

As for how often an event like this occurs, the FAA told NBC Bay Area "incidents such as this are very rare."

The FAA declined to comment on any other specifics of the landing, citing the ongoing investigation.

In a statement, Air Canada said they were also investigating the incident: "Air Canada flight AC759 from Toronto was preparing to land at San Francisco airport Friday night when the aircraft initiated a go-around.

"The aircraft landed normally without incident. We are still investigating the circumstances and therefore have no additional information to offer."

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