FAA Releases Findings (And CRAZY Video) Following Last Year’s Close Calls At SFO

Filed Under: Misc.

SFO has had a series of close calls over the past couple of years, which have caused the FAA to investigate whether the airport has systemic issues, and what can be done to prevent these issues going forward.

The most dramatic of these incidents was what happened to an Air Canada A320 flying from Toronto to San Francisco on July 7, 2017. The plane was supposed to land on runway 28R, but instead lined up with the parallel taxiway. That taxiway happened to have four planes parked on it (three of which were “heavies”), which were missed by a matter of feet. The initial investigation suggested that the planes got within 50 feet of one another, which is virtually nothing.

The NTSB has just released the following footage of the incident, which can really only be described as chilling:

For anyone who thought that 50 feet might not be that close, hopefully this puts into perspective just how close these planes got to one another.

Also, for anyone who didn’t hear it the first time around, here’s the ATC audio from that incident:

This had the potential to be the worst single aviation disaster in history, so thank goodness this was avoided. This incident is still under investigation.

That wasn’t Air Canada’s only incident at SFO last year. Just a few months later an incident occurred where an Air Canada plane on final approach was advised six times to go around, but ignored the instructions. That investigation is now complete, and The East Bay Times has the following summary of the incident:

The FAA concluded after speaking to the flight crew and probing other data that the “crew inadvertently switched from the SFO tower frequency to the SFO ground frequency after receiving their landing clearance.”

“The FAA deemed this event to be an isolated occurrence and not reflective of any systematic deficiencies at Air Canada,” according to a FAA spokesman.

Aimer said pilots often pre-set their radio channels, knowing that once they land they will switch to the ground frequency to get instructions on where to taxi, but this was too soon.

“The pilot should be wondering, ‘How come we don’t hear the tower any more? Why is there complete silence? Why are we hearing ground traffic?’ ” Aimer said. “I can’t understand how experienced pilots didn’t catch that. We’ve all done stupid things, but that’s why you have two people in the cockpit.”

The incident prompted the FAA’s Flight Standards Service executive director to meet with his Canadian equivalent, according to the FAA, which led to an immediate safety review of the air carrier’s entire operations, including increased pilot training and a closer look at the airline’s arrivals and departures at SFO.

While this was also a serious situation, it wasn’t nearly as close of a call as what had happened a few months prior, though that is still under investigation.

I just can’t get over that video…

(Tip of the hat to @mathprofk)

  1. It drives me a little crazy when the usual response to any sort of mistake like this that hits the internet and everybody becomes an instant expert and decides that the offender needs to be fired/jailed/shot.

    My usual response is that everyone is entitled to a mistake and earn a second chance but man that’s scary. Every disaster is usually a series of small mistakes that add up to the end result which it seems holds true here also. I am not a pilot but I still struggle to understand how once they were lined up on the taxiway they didn’t see all planes lined up right in front of them.

    If I was an FA that had to fly with one of these folks at the stick after seeing the level of f-up I would have serious second thoughts. Yikes.

  2. That video is absolutely crazy looks like 50 feet wasn’t hyperbole that AC tail look like it came well within 50 feet of the united tail

  3. To be honest, the video makes it look like much closer than 50 feet. That’s terrifying.

  4. I think this is describing a different Air Canada flight incident (AC781), where the crew continued to land on a runway that may or may not have been clear despite tower instructions to go around.

    The taxiway overfly incident (AC759) is still under investigation.

  5. Wow, 50 feet sounds like a lot more than it looks. Very close to clipping the tail there.

  6. What Beko said. Separate incidents! The radio switching was different than the taxiway approach.

  7. the finding doesn’t add up, the ATC exchange didn’t seem to show that the pilot had switched to ground frequency, otherwise they wouldn’t have copied the reply and go around instruction.

  8. hey…you mixed up two AC incidents together!!!
    One is taxiway overflight of AC-759 on , the other one is that AC781 failed to response the cancellation of landing clearance!

  9. Should we be able to see the runway approach lights that go out in to the bay in that video? I’ve always wondered how they could possibly line up on the taxiway if the approach lights for the correct runway were on (and the approach lights for the closed runway were off). I will admit that there are a LOT of lights in the video. But the approach lights in this video make it pretty clear where the runway is and where it is not.


    caveat: I don’t know anything beyond what I’ve read on website like this. I am not a pilot.

  10. For those more knowledgeable then me, should the controller have said anything else to the pilot after the pilot reported seeing lights on the runway? He simply said no one is on the runway as opposed to issuing some type of warning.

  11. @Ken. No, but in general when a pilot says something like that, controllers will be more alert to what that plane is doing.

    He certainly should have been alert in this case, given the 28L closure.

    I think the 28L closure probably factors heavily in the way the pilot made his error.

  12. @Lucky: summary on this post still reflecting the seperate incident RE switching to ground frequency.

  13. This is the same airport where the OZ flight crashed because the runway radios were turned off and the pilots missed. I suspect systemic problems.

    But it’s sure a nicer and easier place to change planes than LAX.

  14. In the interim, while being investigated are the Air Canada pilots from the taxiway incident still working? Does anyone know?

  15. Unless something’s changed, taxiways are always edged in BLUE lights. Edging in WHITE lights is only on active runways. That seems like a pretty big difference for TWO pilots to miss.

    From a former military pilot.

  16. @Bob “Why is Air Canada allowed to keep operating to the USA??”

    For the same reason as United, American, Southwest and Delta – their training, service and safety record shows they operate well.

    Perhaps the question could be flipped: “Why is LAX allowed to keep operating?” since their ATC also dropped the ball. Same answer as above.

    It’s reasons like this why experts are the one who make these decisions – not the masses. (Damn elitist of me, isn’t it?) If a deficiency is found, procedures for all airlines will be updated.

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