Wrong Surface Landing Incidents
Notice Number: NOTC7400

Recently, the FAA Air Traffic Organization (ATO) has advised of an increase in, “Wrong Surface Landing Incidents” in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Incidents include:

  • Landing on a runway other than the one specified in the ATC clearance (frequently after the pilot provides a correct read back)
  • Landing on a Taxiway
  • Lining up with the wrong runway or with a taxiway during approach
  • Landing at the wrong airport

Investigations of these incidents reveal some common factors that pilots should be aware of so we can try and reduce future occurrences:

  • Airports with parallel runways are prone to wrong surface landings
  • Parallel runways with different dimensions and/or surface color may confuse pilots
  • Offset parallel runways may be problematic due to the potential of the longer or wider runway being more prominent
  • Airports with similar configurations and in close proximity are prone to wrong airport landings
  • 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)
  • 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 versus the runway assigned
  • Pilots’ assigned runways that are rarely used may have difficulty identifying the correct surface and are prone to error even if they use the airport frequently
  • Cockpit distractions during approach and landing phase of flight are frequent factors in wrong surface landings
  • 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

Best Operating Practices pilots can use to help avoid wrong surface landings:

  • Be prepared! Preflight planning should include familiarization with destination and alternate airports to include airport location, runway layout, NOTAMs, weather conditions (to include anticipated landing runway)
  • All pilots should recognize they are prone to a wrong surface landing and take steps to prevent errors on every approach and landing
  • Reduce cockpit distractions during approach and landing phase of flight.  Avoid all unnecessary conversation with passengers.  Full attention to flying duties!
  • Have a technique to verify you are approaching the correct airport and lined up with the correct runway and practice this on every flight
  • Use visual cues such as verifying right versus left runways; runway magnetic orientation; known landmarks versus the location of the airport or runway
  • 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!
  • Pay attention to inflight updates including ATIS and possible runway changes based on wind or other factors
  • Always include the assigned landing runway and your call sign in the read back to a landing clearance
  • When cleared to land early or prior to entering the pattern, exercise care and verify with ATC if there is any doubt as you get closer to the airport
  • Reduction in visibility including the glare from the sun can create visual challenges that lead to errors
  • Night time conditions also create visual challenges that can trick even an experienced professional pilot.  Be prepared!
  • Utilize navigation equipment such as Localizer/GPS (if available) to verify proper runway alignment
  • Request assistance from ATC if experiencing any disorientation or if unsure of position
  • On short final, make final verification of correct runway and ensure that no vehicles or aircraft are present
  • If you are ever in doubt of your approach or landing on the assigned runway, perform a go around procedure and promptly notify ATC

When pilots approach a towered airport for landing, an assigned runway is issued followed by the pilot’s visual identification of the surface.  Subsequently a landing clearance is issued by ATC to be followed by 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 in the National Airspace System (NAS).

All human beings are capable of error and mistakes can have a way of appearing when we least expect them.  It is vitally important for all airmen to prepare themselves and take proactive steps to prevent error and also to recognize it, when necessary, followed by immediate corrective action.

In conclusion, this Notice/FAASTBLAST is to alert pilots to hazards associated with landing at the wrong airport or on the wrong surface at the destination.  Fortunately, there have been no recent accidents associated with this issue, but the risk remains and should be a priority for all airmen.  Please exercise care on every approach/landing and help prevent Wrong Surface Landings in the NAS!

For more information please refer to SAFO 17010 Incorrect Airport Surface Approaches and Landings  https://www.faasafety.gov/files/notices/2017/Oct/SAFO17010.pdf

Harlow Voorhees
FAASTeam Safety Liaison Team Lead
Member of Western Pacific Region Runway Safety Team

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