FAA Tells Pilots to Use All Available Resources During Arrival

SAFO suggests better crew coordination.

SFO Air Canada
Imagery from the NTSB investigation into the Air Canada near-miss at SFO last month.NTSB

Following the early July close call at San Francisco International airport when an Air Canada A320 nearly touched down on an active taxiway, rather than Runway 28 Right where the aircraft was cleared, the FAA published a number of best practices to call more attention to arrival issues.

Safety alert for operators (17010) looks at the importance of a stabilized approach, the best use of available technology and other resources, effective crew resource management and always being ready for a go-around. The agency urges operators emphasize these best practices with flight crews to prevent another incident like the one at SFO.

The SAFO says flying an unstable approach actually demands more effort than one that’s stable because it requires additional concentration by both pilots on aircraft performance, often to the detriment of other equally important information.

Although the NTSB’s preliminary report of the SFO incident doesn’t indicate precisely what, if any, electronic aids may have been active in the A320’s cockpit, use of the most precise nav-aids during any approach will support a safe arrival, especially in darkness or marginal weather. The SFO incident occurred at midnight local time. The FAA said, “Conducting an approach in visual conditions increases the potential for confusing visual clues such as airport lighting configuration, surrounding lights, or areas that look similar to the airport.”

The key to successful cockpit resource management translates into both pilots being receptive, informative, proactive, and persistent about what they’re experiencing during the approach. Part of the pilot monitoring’s job is to speak up when something doesn’t look right, as well as ensuring the approach briefing includes a through review of the airport layout and any facilities that are not in working order. Runway 28 Left was Notamed closed on July 7 with both the runway lighting and ILS systems also shut down.

The agency SAFO reminds pilots of the need to be ready to execute a go around on every approach, but especially when they begin sensing something is not right. A post-incident interview with the two Air Canada pilots revealed that at least one of them thought something was amiss, yet the crew took no action until a United Airlines pilot facing the arrivals on the taxiway yelled that the Airbus was headed for the taxiway and not Runway 28 Right.

While no one was injured in the SFO arrival incident, the potential for a major disaster was huge.