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Duh! Alert: Feds Tell Pilots to Make Sure They Land at the Right Airport


After two incidents in recent months where pilots landed big jets at the wrong airport, federal safety regulators are reminding cockpit crews to take a look at where they are before setting their planes down. Yep, the National Transportation Safety Board felt compelled to tell pilots that landing in the wrong spot can be dangerous, and to please check their instruments on a visual approach.

“Without adequate preparation, robust monitoring, and cross-checking of position using all available resources, flight crews may misidentify a nearby airport that they see during the approach to their destination airport,” the NTSB said today in a safety alert (PDF).

In November, a modified 747 freighter flown by Atlas Air to ferry parts for Boeing’s (BA) 787 Dreamliner landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kan. Less than two months later, on Jan. 12, a Southwest Airlines (LUV) flight from Chicago touched down at the wrong airport in Branson, Mo., necessitating a hard braking on the 3,700-foot runway. That strip at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport is roughly half the length of the flight’s intended runway at the main Branson airport.

Both errors are believed to have been caused by flight crews that had reported seeing what they thought was their proper airport but not confirming the destination with their onboard navigation equipment. Apparently, air traffic controllers monitoring the flights also didn’t notice that the pilots were off course. The alert cautions pilots not to depend on them: “Air traffic controllers may not detect a wrong airport landing in time to intervene because of other workload or radar coverage limitations.”

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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