Plane nearly lands on occupied runway in San Francisco

An Aeromexico passenger jet was was necessary to abort a landing at San Francisco International Airport as it descended toward a runway occupied by another commercial plane, the third close call at the busy airport in six months, officials said Thursday.

Aeromexico Flight 668 from Mexico City had been cleared to land Tuesday and it was about a mile( 1.6 kilometers) from the airport when controllers considered the plane was lined up for a runway occupied by a Virgin America Airbus A3 20 jet waiting to take off for Kona, Hawaii, Ian Gregor, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said in an email.

The tower ordered the Aeromexico Boeing 737 jet to circle around.

“Aeromexico 668 go around! ” an air traffic controller is hear saying on audio recordings, the Mercury News in San Jose, California, reported.

The pilot quickly recognise the request to abort the landing: “Aeromexico 668 going around.”

The 11:45 a.m. event happened after the Aeromexico jet was cleared on Runway 28 R the airport, which is parallel to Runway 28 L. The R stands for right and the L stands for left, Gregor said.

Crew on the Aeromexico jet were “cleared to land on Runway 28 R, and correctly read back that clearance. When the plane was about a mile from the airport, air traffic controllers noticed the plane was lined up for Runway 28 L and informed the crew to execute a missed approach, ” Gregor said.

The plane afterwards safely landed, Gregor said. He said the FAA has opened an investigation.

Pilots and safety experts said air traffic controllers did a good job when they promptly redirected the Aeromexico jet at an airport that many pilots say is notoriously difficult to land at. The runways are close together and unlike at other major airports, planes landing and taking off often share the same runways.

“I would not say there’s cause for alarm, ” said retired airline captain and aviation safety expert John Cox. “The tower, air traffic control, did a very good undertaking, they sent the Aeromexico flight around.”

Longtime American Airlines pilot Chris Manno said “it seems a pilot got left and right wrong in their head, ” Manno said. “The good news is the controller recognized it and the system worked.”

An Air Canada flight crew landed in October on one of the airport’s runways despite repeated warnings to abort because a controller believed another airliner had not left the area yet.

In July, an Air Canada jet with 140 people on board virtually landed on one of the airport’s taxiways where four planes were waiting to take off, inspiring the FAA to issue new rules for nighttime landings and control tower staffing at the airport.

“The third incident in six months, it does create an eyebrow, ” said Doug Moss, an aviation consultant and airline pilot. “All three incidents were caused by different reasons, but in general the San Francisco airport is somewhat problematic, in that there’s a lot of traffic in and out of there, and there’s not enough runways, the runways they do have are not separated laterally enough.”

He said officials have pushed for years to expand the airport, but there is significant community opposition.

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Associated Press writer Juliet Williams also contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that the airport officials corroborated the incident Thursday , not Wednesday.

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