An Air Canada flight inbound to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) Sunday night lucked out and avoided a potential disaster, just months after another Air Canada flight mistakenly lined up to land on a taxiway instead of the active runway at the same airport.
SFO air traffic control initially gave flight 781 a GO to land on the busy airport's runway 28R, roughly six miles or so from touchdown.
In July, Air Canada Flight 759 from Toronto came within seconds of crashing into four other planes when the pilot nearly landed on the taxiway, also at San Francisco's airport.
The Sunday night incident happened three months after another Air Canada jet with 140 people on board almost landed on a crowded taxiway at San Francisco's main airport. The landing was uneventful but it seems the Air Canada crew did not reply to radio transmissions nor to a so-called "red-light gun" alert used to communicate with planes when the radio fails.
The flight landed safely, and the crew said they had a radio problem.
A radar replay showed the preceding arrival was in fact clear of the runway when Air Canada landed, he added. No one was hurt. The first incident, which occurred on July 7, could have been the worst aviation disaster in history, with four planes on the taxiway as the Air Canada flight almost landed right on top of them.
In July, an Air Canada jet descended toward a taxiway holding four other planes rather than its assigned runway. After receiving proper clearance to land it proceeded to do so and landed normally.
Audio from the control tower posted by The East Bay Times indicates that the Air Canada flight was told six times in less than a minute to "go around", or interrupt its landing procedure.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said that the crew acknowledged the tower's initial clearance to land but did not respond to the subsequent orders.
Pilots told investigators "they did not recall seeing aircraft" on the taxiway but "something did not look right to them", a National Transportation Safety Board report said. "Where is this guy going?" an unknown voice said on the air traffic control recording that day.
In the meantime, the FAA issued new guidelines for nighttime landings and control tower staffing at San Francisco's airport.