“Possible pilot deviation, I have a number for you when you’re ready.” — Words you don’t want to hear from a controller.
An Air Canada flight inbound to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Sunday night lucked out and avoided a potential disaster, just months after another Air Canada flight mistakenly lined up to land on a taxiway instead of the active runway at the same airport.
The FAA confirmed the aircraft involved in Sunday’s close call as Air Canada flight 781, an A320, the same type involved in the near miss earlier this year.
SFO air traffic control initially gave flight 781 approval to land on the busy airport’s runway 28R, roughly six miles or so from touchdown. The controller then called a Go-Around and repeated the order five times without a response.
After giving the landing clearance, an aircraft on the rollout ahead of the Air Canada flight was vacating the runway slower than expected. The controller sensing an issue stated for Air Canada 781 to “go around”. Flight 781 was ordered multiple times to abort their landing.
But the flight crew never acknowledged any of the instructions, even after controllers started flashing the crew with a red light gun to give a visual signal of the go-around, which is standard protocol when a crew is not responding to radio coms.
Flight 781 landed shortly before 9:30pm local time, and fortunately, the plane on the ground was able to move in time, avoiding what could have been a disaster.
Not the first time Air Canada has had issues at SFO
This isn’t the first time that Air Canada has had issues at SFO. The first incident, which occurred on July 7, could have been the worst aviation disaster in history, with four planes on the taxiway as the Air Canada flight nearly landed right on top of them. Some 1,000 souls could have been killed in that case.
In the July 7 close call, the flight crew came within just 59 feet of disaster, saying later that they simply mistook the taxiway for the runway, but also acknowledged that “something did not look right”. Had it not been for the pilots on the ground signaling with their lights, the Air Canada crew likely would have landed on top of them.
As for this past weekend’s incident, the FAA is currently investigating. The Air Canada crew blames a radio problem, but that doesn’t explain why they ignored (or just didn’t see) the red light from the tower giving a visual signal to go-around.
We’ve reached out to Air Canada for further comment, and will update as soon as they provide further information.