Oops: Ethiopian Airlines 737 Lands At Wrong Airport

Filed Under: Ethiopian

It would appear that an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 accidentally landed at the wrong airport today on a flight to Zambia… and then a second Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 did almost the same thing.

Ethiopian 737 lands at airport under construction

Ethiopian Airlines Cargo flight ET3891 was scheduled to operate from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Ndola, Zambia, this morning. The flight was operated by an 18 year old Boeing 737-800 with the registration code ET-AYL.

This plane only joined Ethiopian Airlines’ fleet last week — the plane previously flew for Pegasus Airlines, and was then converted into a freighter.

It’s being reported that the plane ended up landing at the wrong airport:

  • The plane was supposed to land at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport, which is the international airport currently being used in Ndola
  • Instead the plane landed at Copperbelt International Airport, which is the new international airport in the city that’s nearing completion, but not yet open

Here’s video footage of the plane taxiing at the airport (and you can see all the surprised construction workers, given that the airport isn’t yet open):

A second Ethiopian 737 almost made same mistake

This story gets even stranger. A pilot in an African aviation group on Facebook reports that another Ethiopian Airlines plane almost made the same mistake.

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET871 was scheduled to operate from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Ndola, Zambia, this morning. The flight was operated by a five year old Boeing 737-800 with the registration code ET-AQP.

According to the pilot, this plane did a last second go around at the airport under construction as well, before flying to the correct airport.

How could something like this happen?

As advanced as aviation is, this is far from the first time that a plane has landed at the wrong airport, and it will be far from the last time.

As of now we don’t have much information about what exactly happened, though I’m sure more details will emerge once there’s an investigation. A few things stand out:

  • Based on my understanding, the new airport looks a lot more like a major airport than the current one, and the two airports also have runways that are oriented in similar directions; of course that doesn’t justify landing at the wrong airport, but if they were on a visual approach, it explains what could have contributed to this
  • The fact that two Ethiopian Airlines planes allegedly made the same mistake on the same day is causing some to wonder whether something was programmed wrong, or if there was an issue with the navigation software
  • I wonder if the ATC audio from this will be released; was there a lapse in communication, or how did neither the pilots nor controllers realize this was happening?

By the way, here’s an interesting video about the new airport in Ndola, which looks pretty darn cool:

Bottom line

While details are still limited as of now, it’s being reported that an Ethiopian Airlines Cargo 737 accidentally landed at the wrong airport in Zambia today. Instead of landing at the current international airport in the city, the plane instead landed at the new international airport under construction, about 10 miles away.

Then a second Ethiopian Airlines 737 apparently almost made a similar mistake, but executed a go around at the last second.

I’ll be curious to see if this is investigated more closely, and if so, what the cause of this is determined to be.

  1. Looks so much like the new airport in BOM that opened a few years ago… almost the same design from the external perspective!

  2. i love how the airport video shows a clip of United Airlines jets in current operations at some random airport.

  3. Never never never would I board an Ethiopian airlines aircraft – FOC or otherwise
    Couldn’t care what sort of inflight review they had either.

  4. @Steven E

    That’s ok. You probably don’t even have a passport anyway. SWA Nashville to Midway flight is boarding. You better hurry to get in line C to secure that fantastic middle seat on ‘Murica’s Greyound Bus in the Sky.

  5. @Steven E – nobody will force you to fly on ET. But it’s your loss, really. ET is a great airline. They have good aircraft, especially the A350, great cabin crew, good food and their pricing is spot-on. From where I live in Cape Town ET is the quickest way to get to many destinations, especially in Europe. ADD is not a great airport but with their schedules I never spend more than 2 hours there so it’s not a huge negative. It’s a well run, profitable airline.

  6. Google Maps shows that the new airport runway is very easy to see but the old airport’s runway, in the same orientation, is harder to see because it blends with nearby roads and buildings.

    The new airport now already has a flight that has landed. It was the first. The pilots should be lucky they were not arrested because they stole a historic occasion that can never be repeated. Now the airport’s news release have to have a qualifier. They will not be able to say, for example, “the first flight to land at the new airport was Proflight Zambia Airways flight 001” but may have to say the first scheduled flight. (Zambian Airways stopped operating more than a decade ago.)

  7. Garuda tried to land a 747 at Essendon Airport (MEB) rather than Tullamarine ( MEL) 20 years after it had closed to international flights. It came within 30 seconds and may not have ended well.

  8. Is the United B 727 which landed at Stapleton a month after the new Denver airport opened still there ? And what happened to the passengers ? Hopefully, they saved a lengthy commute.

  9. Of course, there was 2013 when an USAF C-17 landed not at McDill AFB but the small exec airport (with very small runway) nearby and Marine General Mattis (future SECDEF) aboard. I’m sure brake pads needed a swap-out after this landing: https://www.military.com/video/military-aircraft-operations/landing/c-17-lands-at-the-wrong-airport/1752044600001 . Mattis’ quote was somthing like: “Some young guys made a human error and hopefully they’ll recover and enjoy long and illustrious careers.”

  10. @Mike, the random airport in the Copperbelt International Airport video looks like SEA-TAC with Mt. Rainier in the background.

  11. Ethiopian Airlines lands in Zambia multiple times each day, Ethiopian pilots already know the old airport and adjacent newly constructed one, but not foreign pilots operating ET cargo hauling vaccines.

    Zambia has new airport for resurrection of Zambian Airways, now 45% owned by Ethiopian Airlines.

  12. i don think ethiopian has a such silly flight crew and flight dispachers, any flights prior to comencment cheak and properly fills flight planning that address the destination aerodrom and the alternate aerodroms alteast 3 as per icao.
    thise flight planning will pass through some sort of dispachers and flight crew inteded to flight to the destination after succefull cheak list and API (Aeronautical Puplications ) of the destination aerodroms, therefore unless the destination Aerodrom at
    Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport which is the international airport currently being used in Ndola closede by NOTAM (Notice to Airman) Ethiopian has the right to land,
    2. it it not a such confusing or that the two destination aerodroms will have the same name , same location and same IATA/ICAO Airport codes tha can miss inform the flight.
    3. prior to departure the ethiopian crew and dispachers will cheak all availalbel destination and alternate aerodrom that is able to suport the landing based on facts and reall information.
    3. no flight will proceed before all information avalablility is right and confirmaed as per the legal aviation staffs.
    indeed, the reaoson will bo no mistake or wrong naviagtional preceedings that make EThiopian to land to Mwansa Kapwepwe airport , it could be trafic case, trafic order, facility, distress./ urgency cases that make aircraft to land, or some problem that inhibited the the crews to make decision and we must not forget that it also could be the inauguration that ethiopian is the first to land at Mwansa Kapwepwe airpor.

  13. @paolo

    I was on a CGK/MEL flight on Garuda on a trip home a couple of years ago.

    As we flew past Tullamarine on the Western side and then started turning towards the East/West runway at Essendon, I had thoughts about that earlier Garuda flight. A photo was taken and a smartarse comment on facebook was posted before I reached the immigration gates.

    I did fly into Essendon during that trip – from Wollongong – something I never had a chance to do before Tullamarine opened.

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