Wrong-runway confusion during landing at SFO

FAA investigating why plane nearly landed on wrong runway at San Francisco airport

The pilots of an Aeroméxico flight lined up for landing Tuesday on the wrong runway at San Francisco International Airport.

The flight from Mexico City was cleared by air traffic controllers to touch down on Runway 28R, one of the airport's four principal runways, about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, according to Ian Gregor, spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The tower ordered the Aeromexico Boeing 737 jet to circle around until it was again cleared for landing. At the same time, a Virgin America Airbus A320 was stopped on Runway 28L awaiting take-off to Kona, Hawaii, according to the FAA.

The San Jose Mercury News reports Aeromexico Flight 668 had been cleared to land Tuesday. The R stands for right and the L stands for left, Gregor said. The FAA said the Aeromexico pilots had been using their instrument landing system during the approach, which provides guidance to the pilots when landing in low visibility.

The controller feared another plane that had just landed might still be on the runway, but the Air Canada jet landed safely.


Pilots and safety experts said air traffic controllers did a good job when they quickly redirected the Aeromexico jet at an airport that many pilots say is notoriously hard to land at.

"I would not say there's cause for alarm", said retired airline captain and aviation safety expert John Cox.

On November 20, the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that officials were also investigating two other SFO events. In July, a plane came within 100 feet of striking two commercial jets on a taxiway when it almost landed on the wrong runway. The FAA wants to know how this keeps happening in San Francisco.

Controllers tried to hail the aircraft multiple times and used a light gun to wave off the aircraft, but the Air Canada pilots continued the approach and landed safely on Runway 28R, the FAA said.

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