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Home > Airports > How is it possible for a commercial plane to land on a wrong airport?
How is it possible for a commercial plane to land on a wrong airport?
Aviation - Airports
Sunday, 05 February 2006 06:52

Hi Captain Lim,

I have read many of your interesting responses in your website. Besides piloting skills, I notice that your English skill is also pretty good. I have not heard you speaking English, but your writing is very impressive. Correct me if I am wrong - your first language isn*t English. If you grew up from any English speaking countries, then it is understandable. But, you grew up in a non-English speaking country - that really amazes me.

I do understand that some people in your country speak very good English. They may be English instructors or interpreters. You are not an instructor or interpreter - what makes you excel in your English skill?

I am asking you these questions because I also came from an Asian country. I immigrated to the USA and it took me many years to learn the new language. Do you mind sharing your experience with the many people around the world as to how you achieved your language skill?

Another question, I see planes being towed out of the terminal gates. Is it true that planes can only move forward and not backward like automobiles? That is why they need tow trucks to push them out of the gate.

There was once in the news - a US-domestic plane accidentally landed on a runway in a military base. This happened to be near the actual airport that the plane should have landed. Why was this the case?

Nhi

Los Angeles, California, USA

Hi Ngi,


Thank you for your compliments. I consider my level of English as average. Regarding how I achieved this skill, I think this is not the forum to discuss here. Maybe, I will do so in the future when I have the time to write about it.

Can a plane reverse like an automobile? Well, this question has been answered many times before. It is true that there is no "reverse" gear lever in the cockpit where the pilot can select and move the airplane out of the parking bay. Therefore, it requires a tow truck to push it out. That said, it is not true to say that a plane can only move forward and not backward. Most modern planes have reverse thrust capabilities, not for the purpose of moving out of the parking bay, but mainly for assisting them to slow down the planes so as to reduce the landing distance. You can also read  a previous FAQ titled "
Is the function of reverse thrust similar to the reverse gears of a car?"

Landing on a wrong airport is not unheard of when the airports are closed together and the runways are aligned approximately the same direction. Throw in some weather, poor visibility, a set of possibly tired crew and some other external factors - some passengers can end up somewhere else!

I believe you were probably referring to the Northwest Airlines Airbus A319 that was flying from Minneapolis to Rapid City in South Dakota on June 2004 where it landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base instead.

How could it happen? Some thought it was navigational errors due to some computers going crazy (cell phones interference?) but the mistake was in fact caused by the crew getting mixed up with another similar looking runway when performing a non-precision instrument approach (VOR). When the crew was 16 miles away, they emerged below a layer of cloud and immediately saw a runway with identical alignment. Thinking that it was the correct runway, they landed, not knowing that Rapid City was still 6 miles away!

If it were an ILS approach - a more accurate landing aid, it would not have happened. Perhaps, this may be said to be a typical case of "pilot error". So, no one is infallible in the end!

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