Well this is embarrassing and concerning, but at least the situation ended well…
Turkish Airlines’ attempted taxiway takeoff
The Aviation Herald has the story of how a Turkish Airlines plane attempted to take off from a taxiway at Newark Airport — fortunately air traffic controllers noticed, and the takeoff could be rejected before anything happened.
This incident took place on Turkish Airlines flight TK30 from Newark (EWR) to Istanbul (IST), scheduled to depart late at night on August 6, 2021 (it ended up taking off shortly after midnight on August 7). The flight was operated by a roughly 10 year old Airbus A330-300 with the registration code TC-JNI.
The pilots were cleared for takeoff on runway 22R, but they accidentally instead taxied onto taxiway P, which is parallel to the runway, and attempted to take off there. The pilots accelerated the aircraft, until air traffic controllers noticed what was going on, and canceled takeoff clearance.
The plane went all the way up to 90 knots (~104 miles per hour) before the mistake was caught. The plane covered nearly a mile of the taxiway before it got down to a standard taxiing speed.
At that point the plane taxied to a holding pen, so that the brakes could cool down for about 45 minutes, since such a high speed rejected takeoff caused the breaks to overheat. Emergency vehicles stayed near the parked plane the entire time. The A330 finally (correctly) took off from runway 22R about an hour later, and it landed in Istanbul about 1hr40min behind schedule.
Passengers onboard suggest that the pilot stated the takeoff was rejected due to a mechanical problem. Fair enough, I suppose — I suspect passengers being told the real reason for the aborted takeoff wouldn’t exactly be reassuring, and may have resulted in some passengers wanting to deplane.
You can listen to the air traffic control audio and see a visualization of the situation here:
This is rare, but not unheard of
Ultimately commercial aviation is incredibly safe — however, for every actual disaster we hear of, there are a countless number of bad situations that are narrowly avoided, and this would be one of them.
It’s a major screw-up for pilots to take off from a taxiway rather than a runway:
- There could be other planes on a taxiway, and that could lead to a catastrophe
- Runway lights and taxiway lights are different colors and intensity, so this really shouldn’t be an easy mistake to make
While a commercial aircraft trying to take off or land on a taxiway is rare (like, it’s not a daily or even weekly occurrence), incidents like these do happen every so often. In 2017, an Air Canada A320 nearly landed on a taxiway at SFO, rather than a runway. The plane was within 50 feet of touching down there, and there were four planes on the taxiway, including two 787s, an A340, and a 737. Talk about a narrowly avoided catastrophe.
A Turkish Airlines Airbus A330 flying from Newark to Istanbul nearly took off from a taxiway that was parallel to the runway. Air traffic controllers caught the mistake as the plane was at over 100mph, at which point the takeoff was rejected. The plane’s brakes had to cool down for about 45 minutes, and after that the plane (successfully) took off from the runway.