NTSB Investigating A Landing By Delta On Taxiway At ATL





NTSB Investigating A Taxiway Landing By Delta At ATL

By Bill Goldston

Delta Aircraft Pink- Photo

October 21, 2009, The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the landing of a Delta B-767 on an active taxiway at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport (ATL). According to preliminary information received from several sources, on Monday, October 19, 2009, at 6:05 a.m. EDT, a Boeing B767-332ER (N185DN) operating as Delta Air Lines flight 60 from Rio de Janeiro to Atlanta landed on taxiway M at ATL after being cleared to land on runway 27R. No injuries to any of the 182 passengers or 11 crewmembers were reported.

A check airman was on the flight deck along with the captain and first officer. During cruise flight, the check airman became ill and was relocated to the cabin for the remainder of the flight. A medical emergency was declared and the company was notified by the crew. A determination was made to land at the scheduled destination of ATL. 


The flight was cleared to land on runway 27R but instead landed on taxiway M, which is situated immediately to the north and parallel to runway 27R. The runway lights for 27R were illuminated; the localizer and approach lights for 27R were not turned on. Taxiway M was active but was clear of aircraft and ground vehicles at the time the aircraft landed. The wind was calm with 10 miles visibility. Night/dark conditions prevailed; twilight conditions began at about 7:20 a.m. EDT and the official sunrise was at 7:46 a.m. EDT. A team of four from the NTSB, led by David Helson, is investigating the incident.

The issue of runway safety has been on the NTSB's Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements since its inception in 1990. In March 1977, in what remains the world’s deadliest aviation accident, two passenger jumbo jets collided on a runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, causing the deaths of 583 passengers and crew.  In the U.S., the deadliest U.S. runway incursion accident occurred in August 2006 when Comair flight 5191, a regional jet, crashed after taking off from the wrong runway, killing 49 of the 50 people onboard. The worst U.S. runway incursion accident involving two aircraft was a collision between a USAir 737 and a Skywest Metroliner commuter airplane at Los Angeles International Airport in    February 1991, which killed 34 people.   

A recent runway incursion illustrates the danger of these situations.  On September 19, 2008, a runway incursion involving a Mesa Airlines Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ)-700, and a Cessna R172K occurred at the Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. There were 4 crewmembers and 56 passengers aboard the CRJ-700.  The Cessna aircraft was on landing roll when the tower controller instructed the Mesa Airlines CRJ-700 to taxi into position and hold on the same runway. The controller instructed the Cessna pilot to exit the runway at taxiway A4 and then cleared the Mesa Airlines CRJ-700 for takeoff. 


During their takeoff roll, the Mesa Airlines crew heard the Cessna pilot say that he had missed the taxiway A4 turnoff and ask to exit at taxiway B.  The CRJ-700 crew saw the Cessna ahead, aborted the takeoff at about   120 knots, and swerved around the Cessna.  The Mesa Airlines crew estimated they missed colliding with the Cessna by 10 feet.

The runway incursion issue has been on the Safety Board’s Most Wanted List since its inception in 1990.  In the late 1980s, an inordinate number of runway incursions/ground collision accidents resulted in substantial loss of life, and the Board issued numerous safety recommendations addressing the issue.  The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since taken action to inform controllers of potential runway incursions, improve airport markings, and install the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) and Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model X (ASDE-X).  These systems are an improvement but are not sufficient as designed to prevent all runway incursions.  The runway incursion rate in the United States has not appreciably changed over the past 4 years and stands at about 6.1 runway incursions per 1,000,000 tower operations, despite these improvements.

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