Air Canada Flight 759

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Air Canada Flight 759
C-FKCK A320-211 Air Canada YYC 20JUN07 (5828378320).jpg
C-FKCK, the aircraft involved in the incident, in June 2007
Incident
DateJuly 7, 2017 (2017-07-07)
SummaryNear collision on final approach
SiteSan Francisco International Airport
44°52′02″N 63°31′34″W / 44.8672°N 63.5261°W / 44.8672; -63.5261Coordinates: 44°52′02″N 63°31′34″W / 44.8672°N 63.5261°W / 44.8672; -63.5261
Aircraft
Aircraft typeAirbus A320-211
OperatorAir Canada
IATA flight No.AC759
ICAO flight No.ACA759
Call signAIR CANADA 759
RegistrationC-FKCK
Flight originToronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto, Canada
DestinationSan Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, U.S.
Occupants140
Passengers135
Crew5
Fatalities0
Injuries0
Survivors140 (all)

On the evening of July 7, 2017, at the conclusion of the regularly scheduled international passenger flight from Toronto to San Francisco, Air Canada Flight 759 nearly landed on a taxiway which already had four fully loaded and fueled airplanes holding short for takeoff.[1][2][3][4] A retired pilot stated the runway confusion that almost happened "probably came close to the greatest aviation disaster in history"[2][3][4][5] as five airplanes and over 1,000 passengers were at imminent risk. The NTSB completed a major investigation.

Incident[edit]

Diagram of Runway 28R and Taxiway C at SFO. AC759 mistakenly lined up to land on Taxiway C, shown with the dotted blue line, instead of Runway 28R, shown with the dashed white line, before being ordered to abort the landing.

At 11:46 p.m. local time, Air Canada Flight 759, carrying 135 passengers and 5 crew members,[4] was cleared to land at SFO at Runway 28R. The adjacent Runway 28L had been closed at 10 p.m. local time and its lights were off,[6] except for a 20.5-foot-wide (6.2 m) lighted flashing "X" at the eastern runway threshold.[7] The captain was flying AC759 and the first officer was monitoring.[7] Initial speculation was the AC759 pilot assumed 28R was 28L and therefore lined up for landing on the parallel taxiway C,[2] which was confirmed in post-event interviews with the captain and first officer.[7][8][9] However, runways and taxiways are lit with different colors and intensities,[6] and it was not clear whether radio alignment signals were operating at the time.[10] Preliminary post-event investigation results noted that Runway 28R and Taxiway C were lit on default settings (in different colors), and the automatic terminal information service broadcast information was current and advised that 28L was closed and unlit.[7] According to preliminary Transportation Board investigation results, as the weather was clear, the pilot of AC759 was not required to activate the instrument landing system and relied instead on a visual approach, as typical for the prevailing conditions.[11]

Taxiway C already contained four airplanes, three from United Airlines and one from Philippine Airlines, queueing for takeoff.[1] At 11:55:46 p.m. local time, upon spotting aircraft lights approximately 0.7 miles (1.1 km) from the runway, the AC759 pilot asked the tower if he was clear to land on 28R, to which the air traffic controller responded at 11:55:56 p.m., "There's no one on 28R but you,"[1][3][12] when AC759 was approximately 0.3 miles (0.48 km) from the runway threshold.[13] The AC759 pilots "did not recall seeing aircraft on Taxiway C, but something did not look right to them" according to a post-incident interview summary.[7] The crew of Philippine Airlines Flight 115 turned on their landing lights to alert AC759 they were lined up on the taxiway.[14][13] The pilot of United Airlines Flight 1 (UA001), first in line for takeoff, interrupted the radio traffic at 11:56:01 p.m. and asked "Where is this guy going? He's on the taxiway."[1][3] The air traffic controller then ordered AC759 to abort the landing at 11:56:10 p.m. After AC759 acknowledged the go-around, the air traffic controller stated, "It looks like you were lined up for Charlie [Taxiway C] there."[1][3] AC759 had already started to climb before the go-around order.[13]

Afterwards, the pilot of UA001 radioed the tower saying, "Air Canada flew directly over us," and the air traffic controller responded, "Yeah, I saw that, guys."[1] During the first approach, AC759 flew for 14 mile (0.40 km) over Taxiway C, descended to an altitude as low as 81 feet (25 m) and approached as close as 29 feet (8.8 m) laterally to the four planes waiting on Taxiway C before being ordered to abort the landing.[12][15][16] According to the flight data recorder, the pilots advanced the thrust levers when AC759 was 85 feet (26 m) above the ground and the minimum altitude was 59 feet (18 m), approximately 2.5 seconds after the thrust levers had been advanced.[7] Following a reconstruction of events, one pilot not involved in the incident noted that had AC759 waited five more seconds before pulling up, it would have collided with the third plane (UAL 863) on the taxiway.[16] There was less than 14 feet (4.3 m) separation between the bottom of the Air Canada aircraft and the tail of the Airbus A340.[17]

SFO was the first airport in the United States to install an Airport Surface Surveillance Capability (ASSC) system,[18] which should have alerted the tower of a potential conflict between runway and taxiway movements.[11] AC759 disappeared from the local controller's ASSC display for twelve seconds, between 11:55:52 and 11:56:04 p.m. local time (from shortly after the AC759 pilot asked for confirmation that 28R was clear, to the time the UA001 pilot noted that AC759 was lined up for Taxiway C), as AC759 was too far off-course from 28R.[13]

AC759 completed its go-around and landed without incident after the second approach.[1] A single air traffic controller was monitoring ground and tower frequencies, which would typically be handled by two controllers.[11][13]

Aircraft[edit]

The aircraft flying AC759 that night was C-FKCK, an Airbus A320-200.[12][19] The aircraft was 24.5 years old on the day of the incident, first flying in December 1992.[20]

Aircraft and flights involved in the incident[16][21]
Airline Flight # Aircraft Capacity Registration Origin Destination
Air Canada AC 759 Airbus A320-200 146 C-FKCK Toronto Pearson Airport San Francisco Airport
United Airlines UAL 1 Boeing 787-9 252 N29961 San Francisco Airport Singapore Changi Airport
Philippine Airlines PAL 115 Airbus A340-300 264 RP-C3441 Ninoy Aquino Airport
United Airlines UAL 863 Boeing 787-9 252 N13954 Sydney Airport
United Airlines UAL 1118 Boeing 737-900ER 177 N62895 Cancún Airport

Investigation[edit]

The incident was not considered reportable under current federal regulations,[22] but former NTSB chairman Jim Hall called it "the most significant near-miss we've had in this decade" and urged the NTSB to re-evaluate those reporting requirements.[23] The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was informed of the incident on July 9, and took the lead on the investigation, with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) served as a facilitator to convey information between Air Canada and the NTSB.[4] TSB released preliminary information from Occurrence No. A17F0159 on July 11, 2017.[12][19] NTSB assigned identification number DCA17IA148 to the incident.[24]

A retired pilot stated that SFO requires "precision flying" as the two runways (28R and 28L) are laterally separated by 750 feet (230 m), and Taxiway C is separated from 28R by less than 500 feet (150 m).[10] Other pilots pointed out that some airlines require all aircraft to use the instrument landing system (ILS) regardless of weather or visibility, which could have alerted the cockpit that the aircraft was lined up with the taxiway.[2] Dave Jones, California Insurance Commissioner and a passenger on AC759, wrote a letter to Air Canada a week after the incident requesting their cooperation with the investigation.[6][16]

Final investigation results are still pending. Preliminary NTSB investigation results from flight data recorder telemetry, released on August 2, 2017, indicate that AC759 reached a minimum altitude of 59 feet (18 m) above ground level, comparable to the 55 ft 10 in (17.02 m) tail height of a Boeing 787-9, two of which were on Taxiway C.[7][25] The cockpit voice recorder had been overwritten before the investigation was launched,[13] as C-FKCK flew three more flights on July 8 before the NTSB was informed of the near-miss on July 9.[23]

Final stages[edit]

In a 25 September 2018 board meeting, the NTSB cited as probable cause the pilots misunderstanding the taxiway for runway 28R as they overlooked the 28L closure buried in the NOTAM, and as contributing factors: not taking advantage of the ILS, which was not tuned, in the FMS visual approach; and pilot fatigue. The crew's body clock was at the Toronto 03:00 Eastern Time: the first officer had no significant rest for 12h, and the captain for 19h - he would not have been able to fly under US pilot fatigue rules. Transport Canada plans to bring its pilot rest rules in line with international standards later in 2018.[26]

The FAA received six recommendations: identifying approaches requiring an unusual manual frequency input; displaying it noticeably on charts; reviewing NOTAMs to prioritise and present relevant information; requiring airspace class B/C aircraft to alerts pilots when not aligned with a runway; modifying airports to alert on collision risks; clearly showing closed runways, as construction lighting on 28L looked like ramp lighting.[26]

Air Canada is simplifying its SFO approach charts and includes SFO-specific training in aircraft simulators, trains its staff to reduce expectation bias, and will retrofit new aircraft like the Airbus A220 and Boeing 737 Max with dual heads-up displays to enhance situational awareness in low-visibility, high-risk approaches.[26]

The NTSB published their final report in September 2018, five recommendations were made.[17] As the pilots were slow to report the incident, the plane had made another flight and the cockpit voice recording was recorded over. The NTSB has stated that it wants faster incident reporting and considers recommending capturing the last 25 hours, an increase from two hours.[27]

A former NTSB investigator observed deficiencies in the investigation, criticizing the board for avoiding introspection and indicating that it is more reactive than proactive. The report faults Air Canada for reporting too late and erasing the voice record, but notes that the NTSB only requires notification when an aircraft lands or departs on a taxiway, or when a collision is avoided after a runway incursion, and neither happened. It also dismisses a comparable taxiway mishap in Seattle-Tacoma by Alaska Airlines in December 2015, still in the preliminary investigation stage.[28]

Aftermath[edit]

Following the incident, in early August the Federal Aviation Administration modified nighttime landing procedures at SFO, forbidding visual approaches at night "when an adjacent parallel runway is closed" and replacing them with instrument approaches, either ILS or satellite-based, and requiring two air traffic controllers in the control tower "until the late-night arrival rush is over".[29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Gafni, Matthias (July 10, 2017). "Exclusive: SFO near miss might have triggered 'greatest aviation disaster in history'". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Gafni, Matthias (July 11, 2017). "SFO near-miss: Air Canada flight got 'extremely close' to planes on taxiway, pilot on ground alerted tower, averted disaster". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Levenson, Eric; Chan, Stella; Hassan, Carma; Ostrower, Jon (July 11, 2017). "Air Canada plane nearly lands on a crowded taxiway at San Francisco airport". CNN. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Spurr, Ben; Howells, Laura (July 11, 2017). "'Close to the greatest aviation disaster in history:' Air Canada pilot almost lands on busy taxiway". The Star. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Dangerfield, Katie (July 11, 2017). "Air Canada plane almost lands on crowded taxiway at San Francisco airport". Global News Canada. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Gafni, Matthias (July 12, 2017). "'11 seconds to impact': Expert calculates how close SFO near-miss was to disaster". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "NTSB Issues Investigative Update on San Francisco Airport Near Miss" (Press release). National transportation Safety Board. August 2, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  8. ^ Croft, John (August 4, 2017). "NTSB: SFO Runway Lighting Confused Air Canada Pilots". Aviation Daily. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  9. ^ Rapoport, Geoff (August 5, 2017). "Air Canada Flight Misses By Four Feet". AVweb. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Riva, Nicole (July 11, 2017). "Air Canada plane avoids disaster in San Francisco". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c Gafni, Matthias (July 21, 2017). "SFO close call: Air Canada pilot was not using guidance system, source says". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d Gafni, Matthias (July 13, 2017). "Officials: Air Canada plane flew for a quarter-mile over taxiway before anyone noticed". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Landing Approach to Taxiway at San Francisco International Airport". National Transportation Safety Board. August 2, 2017. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  14. ^ Tucker, Jill (August 17, 2017). "Changes made at SFO after Air Canada jet's close call". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 18, 2017.
  15. ^ Croft, John (July 14, 2017). "TSB: Air Canada A320 Overflew Four Aircraft". Aviation Daily. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d Gafni, Matthias (July 17, 2017). "NTSB: Air Canada close-call at SFO was even worse than first reported". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Taxiway Overflight Air Canada Flight 759 Airbus A320-211, C-FKCK San Francisco, California, July 7 2017" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. September 25, 2018.
  18. ^ Schofield, Adrian (January 12, 2012). "FAA Extends Surveillance System To Nine Airports". Aviation Week. Retrieved July 22, 2017.
  19. ^ a b Occurrence No.: A17F0159 (Report). Transportation Safety Board of Canada, ASIS. July 11, 2017. Retrieved July 18, 2017.
  20. ^ "C-FKCK Air Canada Airbus A320-200". Planespotters.net. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  21. ^ Air Canada A320 nearly lands on taxiway! Close Call at SFO on YouTube
  22. ^ 49 C.F.R. 830.5
  23. ^ a b Gafni, Matthias (August 9, 2017). "'Critical' evidence in near air-disaster at SFO erased". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved August 16, 2017.
  24. ^ "NTSB Identification: DCA17IA148". National Transportation Safety Board. July 2017. Retrieved July 19, 2017.
  25. ^ 787 Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning (PDF) (Report). Boeing Commercial Airplanes. December 2015. Retrieved August 3, 2017. Document Number D6-58333, Revision L
  26. ^ a b c Ghim-Lay Yeo (25 Sep 2018). "Pilot error behind Air Canada A320 near-miss at San Francisco". Flightglobal.
  27. ^ David Koenig (Oct 12, 2018). "Safety officials want faster reporting of aviation incidents". The Associated Press.
  28. ^ William Tuccio (Nov 8, 2018). "Opinion: When A Near-Accident Requires Deeper Investigation". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
  29. ^ Jon Hemmerdinger (August 17, 2017). "FAA changes San Francisco landing procedures after A320 near miss". Flightglobal.

External links[edit]