Wrong Surface Landings

In September 1995 a Northwest Airlines flight departed Detroit, destination Frankfurt.  They landed at the wrong airport – Brussels.  How is this possible?  Like almost all aviation incidents, there was a series of cascading events.  This was an “antique” by today’s standards – a DC-10 with no GPS and no magenta line or “moving map”, but it did have the “airshow” video for the passengers and cabin crew, who watched the whole thing unfold and never said a word. 

These three pilots had over 100 years of collective flying experience.  Don’t think it can’t happen to you.

The FAA has an all-encompassing term for this now: “Wrong Surface Landings”. Could be a wrong airport, wrong runway, taxiway, closed runway – you name it.  It’s a serious issue and is happening far more frequently than you may imagine – about every other day! The example above involved a Part 121 carrier but current data shows that 85% of these mistakes involve general aviation.  I’m sure you read about Harrison Ford’s wrong surface landing a couple years ago at KSNA.  That incident happened in day/VFR – a common thread.  In fact I’d be willing to bet that the good weather causes complacency.

Check out this 4-minute video by the FAA; it’s got loads of good preventive measures to think about: https://youtu.be/5II-s_j35cI

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3 Responses to Wrong Surface Landings

  1. Jeffrey Lavine January 2, 2019 at 9:04 pm #

    This is not hard to imagine. There are two airports in Connecticut that are very close together and have runways with the same orientation. I think one of them is Brainard. when approaching from the South, it is hard to tell them apart.

    • Roger Harris January 3, 2019 at 9:34 am #

      Thanks Jeff. I’m sure there are others nearby too. I’d be willing to bet that someone has landed at Alexandria instead of Sky Manor…or vice versa. (Although since they’re both non-towered, it could be kept a secret.)

  2. eswanger January 4, 2019 at 9:07 am #

    One closer to home that I’m sure has been a problem in the past is Old Bridge (3N6)… right next to a drag strip. I’m sure some pilot has landed on the drag strip instead of the runway at some point.

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