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BREAKING: Another Close Call for Air Canada at SFO As They Ignore “Go Around” Instructions

An Air Canada A320 at SFO. Credit: Phillip Capper (Creative Commons license)

“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.

A view out towards SFO’s runways. Credit: Mike Killian

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

On July 7, 2017, AC flight 759 appears to fly directly overhead United flight 1. At this time, the United pilot openly queries tower saying “Where’s this guy going?”

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.

Follow Mike Killian on Instagram and Facebook, @MikeKillianPhotography 

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Written by Mike Killian

Killian is an aerospace photographer and writer, with a primary focus on spaceflight and military and civilian aviation. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.