Taxiway Landing Disasters Are Preventable But FAA Bureaucrats Haven’t Done It

Last year’s Air Canada Toronto – San Francisco flight AC759 that lined up to land on taxiway C could have been the worst aviation disaster in history.

Four planes were waiting on the taxiway to take off. The Air Canada jet flew over a United 787 and initiated an aborted landing and go around. United can be heard on air traffic control audio saying “Where’s this guy going? He’s on the taxiway.”

Air Canada descended to as low as 59 feet — just three above the height of a 787. Just after the United widebody was a Philippine Airlines Airbus A340. The captain of that aircraft turned on its landing lights to make itself visible to incoming aircraft.

In light of this near miss and other less dramatic ones like it the FAA says they’re modifying 35 major airports with the ASDE-X surface-detection system to add ‘Taxiway Arrival Prediction.’ Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, and Hartford now have programs implemented.

That sounds like great work by the FAA — except that according to the Air Traffic Control Reform Newsletter the system “had taxiway-landing detection capability built in, capable of detecting an errant plane’s approach up to three-quarters of a mile away.” It was in the original requirement document from 2009. The NTSB recommended it that year. And it’s in use in Europe without issue.

But the FAA didn’t do it. Apparently the initial testing produced too many false alarms. No matter than this issue was apparently solved years ago,

FAA now says it is working on software upgrades to ASDE-X for this purpose, and may begin testing within a few months . . . . In fact, no software upgrade is needed; the warning module simply needs to be activated and adapted to each airport.

Copyright: cylonphoto / 123RF Stock Photo

According to an ATC Reform Newsletter source, “There are these three different initiatives going forward in three [FAA] organizations with zero oversight at the top. …the FAA engineering team in Oklahoma City likes to ‘reinvent their own stuff,’ putting in software and modifications that are not needed—repackaging what already exists and claiming new stuff.”

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Long past time to end the FAA’s ATC monopoly and join Canada in privatizing these services (which it did in 1996, launching two decades of constant improvements to safety and costs).

  2. Another example to prove the same point. America has fallen soooo far behind most other countries but u guys keep on waving the flags and believe in the myth of america being the greatest country on earth.
    There was a time until about 20 yrs back where it might have been the case. But no longer. Look at your domestic infrastructure, health care, education, low quality media, weak corporate governance, the polarized political system, polluting industries, low quality cars that are not exportable, not to mention the crappy airlines. Yet most of you continue in your dreams.
    It is a shame as american people are generally nice, friendly, generous. But your country is totally sick.

  3. I work as an engineer on a system that is intended to detect landing intent and whether or not the aircraft is heading towards the runway. We do get a lot of complaints about nuisance messages. This trains pilots to ignore these messages and it’s definitely not a desirable outcome.

    In my opinion, it’s better to fully develop these products and put them in the field when they will work as designed. Otherwise we’ll train pilots and controllers to ignore there systems.

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