For every actual aviation disaster, there are a countless number of incidents that have a better ending. Aviation safety authorities learn from every incident, and changes are made to be sure they don’t happen again. For example, in July there was a close call at SFO that involved an Air Canada A320 on approach that nearly landed on a taxiway that had four aircraft on it. Even though this mostly seemed to come down to pilot error, changes were made at SFO to prevent something like this from happening again.
The Aviation Herald is one of my favorite sites for tracking aviation incidents that we don’t otherwise hear about, ranging from bird strikes to engine failures to all kinds of other stuff. Most of them aren’t all that interesting, though The Aviation Herald reported this weekend on an incident that happened with an Emirates A380 approaching New York JFK Airport on December 4, 2017.
You may be thinking to yourself “wait, wasn’t there recently a story of an Emirates A380 having a dangerously low approach?” There was indeed. In September I wrote about the approach an Emirates A380 had at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. The plane was 400 feet above ground level eight nautical miles from the runway, with a heading that was nowhere close to aligning with the runway. While this isn’t quite as terrible (because that was just screwed up on so many levels), there’s a similar story, this time around involving JFK.
So what happened this time around? An Emirates A380 (operating flight EK207 from Dubai to New York) was on final approach to runway 13L, following the standard Canarsie approach, which requires a 90 degree turn on very short final. About 2.5 nautical miles from the runway the air traffic controller advised the pilots that they were extremely low on approach, at which point the crew initiated a go around.
Just how low was the Emirates A380? Per The Aviation Herald:
The FAA radar data suggest the aircraft was at 200 feet AGL at the lowest point. The Webtrak data produced by the airport authority show the aircraft at 338 feet MSL at its lowest point.
We’re not sure which data is accurate, but if it was anywhere in the range of 200-338 feet, that’s insanely low. Keep in mind that this wasn’t even a straight approach, but the plane was making a sharp turn to line up with the runway. For reference, the wingspan of an A380 is 262 feet, so the plane was potentially less than a wingspan from the ground while making a sharp turn.
I don’t want to draw too many conclusions here, though we did have two major accidents in the UAE last year, one with FlyDubai and one with Emirates. If there’s one very common complaint from pilots in the UAE that has emerged from both of these incidents, it’s the terrible fatigue pilots in the UAE are subjected to with their scheduling, given that they often fly in the middle of the night, operate ultra longhaul flights, don’t get many days off, etc.
Stories like this are certainly alarming, especially as it’s the second such story in a short period. However, I do think it’s worth acknowledging that typically a story like this would never otherwise be reported on in the mainstream media, so this happens a lot more often than you’d think. Like I said at the beginning of the post, for every major incident there are a lot of other incidents that we’ll never hear about…