NTSB releases footage of San Francisco close call

May 3 (UPI) — The National Transportation Safety Board released footage this week of an Air Canada plane coming within 10 feet of other jets on the runway at San Francisco International Airport last year, one of a number of close calls to plague the airport in recent years.

The footage released Wednesday shows as Air Canada Flight 759 made its approach to SFO on July 7. Air traffic control had cleared the pilots for the landing, but they were lined up to land on a taxiway that had four jets full of passengers waiting to take off.

The Air Canada plane came dangerously close to one of the planes, a Philippine Airlines jet, before pulling up and circling around for another landing attempt. The pilots told the NTSB they were confused about the location of the runway because a parallel runway had been closed for the night.

The Federal Aviation Administration opened investigations into four other dangerous incidents at the airport since late 2016, according to documentation provided by the agency.

On Dec. 14, 2016, a SkyWest pilot mistakenly turned onto the wrong taxiway, crossing the hold lines for a runway and stopping about 65 feet away from the runway where a United Airlines jetliner was in the process of taking off. The FAA blamed pilot error.

On Feb. 15, 2017, a tower controller cleared a Compass passenger jet to land on a runway where a Virgin America plane was waiting for takeoff. Ground radar alerted the tower and the landing was aborted. The FAA blamed the tower for the mistake.

On Oct. 22, 2017, Air Canada Flight 781 failed to acknowledge go-around instructions from air traffic control after the tower controller realized a previous arrival might not be clear of the runway by time the Air Canada flight landed. The FAA determined the Air Canada pilots did not hear the tower instructions because the pilots inadvertently switched from the SFO tower frequency to the SFO ground frequency after receiving permission to land.

On Jan. 9, Aeromexico Flight 668 lined up for the wrong runway, where a Virgin America jet was waiting for takeoff. Air traffic controllers told the Aeromexico plane to execute a missed approach. The FAA blamed pilot error.

In the wake of these events, the FAA, National Air Traffic Controllers Association and SFO have taken a number of steps to prevent similar incidents, including:

— Pilots landing at night must use instrument landing, not visual approaches, when a parallel runway is closed.

— Two air traffic controllers must be on duty during the late-night arrival rush.

— Installing a ground radar display which shows runway centerlines extending out into space so controllers can determine whether pilots are lined up correctly.

— Modifying ground radar to identify potential conflicts when aircraft are three-fourths of a mile away. The previous distance was half a mile away.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., called the footage of the July 2017 incident, which threatened the lives of about 1,000 passengers, alarming.

“It would have been one of the great tragedies in the history of aviation,” he told KGO-TV in San Francisco.

Last week, he introduced four amendments to the FAA’s reauthorization procedures to ensure that close calls are investigated more thoroughly in the future.

He said incidents like these are happening more frequently at SFO “because of the design of the airport.”

“The runways and the taxiways are very physically close and some of it is that SFO has become busier because of the economy,” he said.

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