Air Arabia Pilot’s Insane Takeoff Mistake

Filed Under: Other Airlines

It always amazes me how safe air travel is. For every serious incident there are a countless number of incidents where something almost goes very wrong. This is one of those incidents, and it’s sort of unbelievable.

The Aviation Herald has the story of what happened to an Air Arabia flight that was departing Sharjah on Tuesday, September 18, 2018.

The flight, Air Arabia 111, was scheduled to fly from Sharjah to Salalah using an Airbus A320. Note that Air Arabia is based in Sharjah, so generally you’d expect pilots to be most familiar with operating procedures at their home airport (they should of course know how to operate at any airport based on reading charts and NOTAMs, but my point is that they should have a special familiarity).

Sharjah Airport has a runway that’s over 13,000 feet long, which is really long, and could accommodate any plane. So it’s not unusual for an airplane to perform an intersection takeoff. The plane was supposed to depart from runway 30 at the intersection with taxiway B14.

This intersection is located about 3,350 feet from the end of the runway, meaning the plane would still have about 10,000 feet to take-off, which is more than enough.

However, instead the plane took off in the opposite direction, where it only had about 3,350 feet of runway left. The crew managed to become airborne in time and avoid obstacles, and the flight continued as scheduled to Salalah.

A day after the incident, Air Arabia banned intersection takeoffs, and both pilots have been suspended pending an investigation.

To put this into perspective, here’s a diagram of the airport (courtesy of Google Maps), with the red box showing where they entered the runway, and the arrow showing the direction in which they took off.

The fact that this happened is just sort of unfathomable, especially at an airport the pilots should have been familiar with:

  • Did neither pilot visually notice that they only had a few thousand feet of runway?
  • Did neither pilot look at the compass heading or any of the other visual clues to make sure they were taking off in the right direction?
  • Did neither pilot realize their mistake when they started their takeoff roll, and make the decision to abort the takeoff?

So, how much runway does an A320 need? It depends on all kinds of factors, including the winds, temperature, takeoff weight, how much power is used for takeoff, and more. However, the general estimates I’ve seen range anywhere from 3,500 feet to 6,500 feet, with the 3,500 number being on the very low end for an empty flight.

I assume this flight wasn’t anywhere close to its maximum takeoff weight, or I think this may have ended differently.

(Featured image courtesy of Konstantin von Wedelstaedt)

  1. Incredible. Of course the runways have different names (and presumably signage) based on the direction you’re going. I mean, if you have a takeoff heading, or even know which way the wind is blowing, its hard to screw up.

    But, Inshallah you know …

  2. And that’s why I don’t issue take off clearances before I see the aircraft turning the right direction on the runway when using intersection departures…
    – An Air Traffic Controller

  3. Interesting route taken right after take off as seen on FlightRadar24…. I wonder if they actually considered landing before proceeding!

  4. It amazes how much manual intervention is involved in flight management and that we don’t have more accidents. Seriously.

    We need automation with multiple fail safe mechanisms. And only human intervention in extra ordinary circumstances.

  5. Also, your opening logically makes no sense.

    “It always amazes me how safe air travel is. For every serious incident there are a countless number of incidents where something almost goes very wrong”.

    Should be:

    Amazes me how the public wrongly perceives how safe air travel is. ……

  6. Shouldn’t the headline read “…pilots’ insane…” rather than “…pilot’s insane…”? Unless….the plane had only 1 pilot?!?!?!

  7. Lucky,

    I was just watching Mighty Planes on tv and they were profiling the 747-8F and on the show there was a guy that was 28 that was about to be certified as a captain! I just thought you’d think that’s cool since I know you thought of being a pilot when you were younger and he’s around our age so it’s the first person I’ve seen accomplishing what we both dreamt of! Pretty awesome !

  8. @William – the ME3 have a lot of long haul captains at a similar age and experience level which has long been a critique against them, along with pilot fatigue and operating hours. Being a long haul captain of a heavy at 28 isnt exactly a good thing to some.

  9. @GuruJanitor
    The ME3 have a lot of pilots who are 28? That’s very hard to believe, can you point to anything that supports that?

  10. >Air Arabia

    There’s your answer. I understand there’s a whole group of people who think praising pilots for putting passengers’ lives at risk is great, but just like that drunk AC pilot that almost landed on a taxi way in SFO, this pilot needs to be fired and prosecuted.

  11. holly crap, how could anyone not see that they had turned the wrong direction, they had to have noticed they were staring down a short runway…its amazing this didn’t end very poorly. Had the plane been fully loaded with pax and/or cargo this likely would have been a huge disaster. Have to say though, while the pilots clearly screwed up BIG TIME how did the tower not notice them turning right vs left and alert them before they started their roll and tell them to abort? Lots of people should be looking for new jobs after this CF.

  12. @William Y. which drunk AC pilot are your referring to (serious question, I’not heard of a drunk AC pilot almost landing on a taxi way in SFO)

  13. ryan:

    I keep trying to share a Wikipedia link, but I think Tiffany’s new moderation disallows that.

    So look up AC flight 759 to SFO.

  14. Quite similar to QR778 , Miami-Doha, also took off from wrong intersection and didn’t have enough runway ( …Tailstrike, gash in fuselage, but they climbed away and continued on for 14 hours).
    Also, EK407, Melbourne-Dubai. Pilot entered wrong weight in the computer, insufficient runway with wrong speed calculations, hit runway lights and an antenna , missed a building by less than 20centimetres. The closest thing ever to an air disaster in Australia.
    Is it just chance that so many of the incidents involve Gulf carriers?

  15. >Is it just chance that so many of the incidents involve Gulf carriers?

    Of course not. But that’s not PC to talk about.

  16. There was a post on a popular aviation website about the first officer being a trainee. There’s a lot of issues with their pay to fly training program. The trainee’s pay a lot of money to fly, the airline doesn’t pay them until a certain amount of flying hours. The trainee’s are exhausted, overworked, crazy rosters and hardly have money to live (Keep in mind how expensive UAE is) This is just exploiting these kids with dreamy futures. This is going to probably happen again unfortunately and maybe result in something worse if they don’t change.

    The above post was deleted later but this is what I remember.

  17. @william y, you are on a roll. Do you have some evidence to back up your accusations that the AC pilot was drunk? Or that gulf airlines are involved in more near misses?

  18. @Michael – Andre was actually on Comair flight 5191 from Lexington Kentucky to Podunk Arkansas in PAID first class. And he said at the time it was WAY better than most of the MANY first class products he FREQUENTLY flies on PAID tickets.

  19. Debit STFU…you know exactly what I am talking about. Are you saying that you weren’t implying that the incident occurred because they may have been Arab or Muslim by saying, “were the pilots Arab or Muslim?”

    Also, we have memory’s and can point to numerous comments you have made showing that you are a right wing racist Trumpkin…aka a troll.

    Crawl back into your hole.

  20. Intersection departures are never a good idea. This is the first thing one gets drilled in to during primary flight training. One can always request full length.

  21. @Debit…Yeah, I am cool with a racist telling me to “effoff.” You have made yourself known too many times. It would take you a month to delete all your bigoted comments. Better get busy.

  22. William Y if this was an honest mistake no one is going to be prosecuted and nor should they be. To err is human. That is why additional safeguards need to be put in place


  23. Given that there have been several near-accidents with intersection take-offs, why not just always start from the end of the runway?

    It’s fine to say that pilots should pay more attention, but better to set rules that are easy for them to stick to.

  24. @Adamw – while Debit is usually a troll, today both his comments were actually valid comments relevant to the topic, I think you’re referring to “Debit’s Sister” when you mentioned the racist comment, who is not Debit.

  25. It should be mentioned that the ME3 and the other ME carriers employ a lot of pilots from the US, South America, Asia and Europe. So the origin of those carriers don’t necessarily relate to the national origin of the pilots.

  26. This is Al because of FATIGUE!!
    Middle East Airlines are modern day slavery. Emirates Airlines is moving at a fast pace, towards a major accident. They are making pilots fly beyond their limits.
    Pilots are all tired, making mistakes and Emirates Airlines is covering the truth!!

  27. I know it was a young lady who did that take off but the captain was experienced, both of them are still flying in the company. Middle east airlines have the best aircrafts but sometimes they put their crew under crazy rosters

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