Air traffic controllers at Boston Tower told the pilot of a commuter turbo-prop aircraft to abort landing after it lined up to land on an occupied taxiway instead of a runway at Boston Logan International Airport on the night of Oct. 20.
Controllers noticed something was awry when the Piedmont Bombardier Dash 8 approached the west side of the airport closer and lower than normal, without its landing lights turned on.
Boston Tower controller Ross Leshinsky advised a go-around for a pilot lined up to land on an occupied taxiway Oct. 20.
“I’ve seen that approach for 20 years now, and everything about it seemed odd,” said Eric Knight, the controller-in-charge during the event. “Everyone in the tower said, ‘That doesn’t look right.’”
Knight suggested to Ross Leshinsky, who was working the plane, to advise the pilot that his landing lights were off. The lights immediately came on, but when the aircraft turned toward its final approach, controllers noticed the lights shining on a taxiway being used by a JetBlue A320 holding short of Runway 4L.
Leshinsky sent the pilot around, and as the aircraft made the missed approach, it flew right behind the JetBlue plane and in front of two other aircraft on another taxiway. The Bombardier then re-entered the air traffic pattern and landed safely.
Six of seven controllers on duty were watching and providing input during this event, making this save a perfect example of a tower team working together to reduce risk in the national airspace system.
“It’s an approach that we do regularly, and all the controllers here know it’s a more difficult approach than most, so we were all at a heightened state awareness while this was going on,” Leshinsky said.
The approach is especially tricky at night as lights glow from the airport and the city of Boston. This wasn’t the first time Boston Tower controllers have prevented a plane from landing on the wrong pavement. On Sept. 27, 2013, the pilot of a single-engine Cirrus SR22 lined up with a taxiway on approach and put his plane on course to intersect a taxiing Embraer jet. Fortunately, now-retired controller Nunzio DiMillo immediately told the pilot to go around.
Wrong-surface landings are happening around the country and are among the most high-profile events in aviation. As another example, on Dec. 19, 2015, an Alaska Airlines jet landed on a taxiway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The pilot error did not result in an accident, but potential consequences were severe.
As a result of these events, the ATO has identified wrong-surface landings as one of the Top 5 most prevalent risks in the NAS for 2017. Workgroups made up of safety experts are looking for ways to reduce the number of incidents.
As this latest case at Boston Tower shows, there’s no substitute for controller situational awareness – the ability to identify and process what’s going on around them and potential impacts.
“This rises to the level of being awe-inspiring when an entire tower team has identified a situation and everyone is watching,” said Andy Hale, air traffic manager at Boston Tower. “We succeed as a team and fail as a team, and this was a time we succeeded and averted a really bad situation.”