Jeff Chiu / Associated Press                                The air traffic control tower is in sight as a plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco in 2017.

Jeff Chiu / Associated Press The air traffic control tower is in sight as a plane takes off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco in 2017.

FAA: Pilots to blame for 3 San Francisco airport close-calls

The agency re-certified the airport last week after an in-depth review of its operations.

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Pilot error was responsible for three of the five close-calls involving aircraft reported in the past 16 months at San Francisco International Airport, federal authorities said Wednesday, while another incident was blamed on an air traffic control problem.

In all the incidents, planes lined up to land on the wrong runway or taxiway at the airport, a notoriously difficult place for landings.

In one case, an Air Canada flight almost landed on a taxiway jammed with four planes awaiting departure.

Air Canada pilot Dimitrios Kisses told investigators he aborted the landing on July 7, 2017, because “things were not adding up,” the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report.

Moments later, an air traffic controller told him to pull up.

The Federal Aviation Administration detailed other incidents in a separate report.

It said a SkyWest pilot was given taxiing instructions on Dec. 14, 2016, and correctly read them back, but then turned onto the wrong taxiway.

The aircraft stopped 65 feet from the edge of the runway, where a United Airlines Boeing 737 was taking off.

On Oct. 22, 2017, another Air Canada flight was cleared to land but a tower controller then instructed the crew multiple times to circle because he was not certain that a preceding arrival would be clear of the runway.

The FAA report says “the Air Canada crew did not acknowledge any of the controller’s instructions. A supervisor then used a red light gun to alert the crew to go around” until the other plane was off the runway.

Investigators found the crew inadvertently switched from the San Francisco tower frequency to a ground frequency after receiving landing clearance. The incident “resulted in several actions” that were not specified in the report.

Three months later, a traffic controller mistakenly cleared a Compass passenger jet to land on a runway where a Virgin America plane was waiting for takeoff, the FAA determined.

The most recent near-collision occurred on Jan. 9 when an Aeromexico passenger jet was ordered to abort a landing as it descended toward a runway occupied by another commercial jet.

The FAA determined the incident was caused by pilot error and said Aeromexico provided more training to its pilots on flying into San Francisco, including distributing a safety alert to its pilots about the incident.

Since then, the airport has reinforced its ground radar system, added more lights and shut down a confusing taxiway, the FAA said.

The FAA re-certified the airport last week after an in-depth review of its operations, airport spokesman Doug Yakel said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the July 2017 incident in which the Air Canada flight almost landed on a taxiway occupied by four other planes.

It hasn’t concluded who was at fault, but the voluminous report released Wednesday includes interviews with the pilots, air traffic control and a chilling video clip of the aborted landing that shows the A320 with 140 people aboard coming close to another plane before turning its nose up and flying away.

It says the pilot and co-pilot reported being tired after flying from Toronto.

The report says co-pilot Matthew Dampier twice failed to earn a promotion to captain after getting unsatisfactory reviews during the process. Instructors said he made imprecise approaches before landings and seemed to lack understanding of situations and surroundings.

A call seeking comment from The Air Canada Pilots Association, the union that represents the airlines’ pilots, was not returned.

Air traffic controller Brian Delucchi told investigators that the flight path of the plane looked “extremely strange” before he ordered the crew to abort its landing and circle the airport for another attempt.

He was the only one working that night, and the agency later issued new rules requiring two controllers in the airport tower during busy late-night periods.

Delucchi said the plane dropped from his radar screen on approach, an unusual occurrence that he said didn’t alarm him because he was tracking the plane with binoculars.

Federal officials subsequently issued new rules for nighttime landings and control-tower staffing. Now, when an adjacent runway is shut down at night, air traffic controllers will no longer let pilots make so-called visual approaches to land. Instead, they must use instrument landing systems or satellite-based systems to line up for the correct runway.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Nuno Taborda
Former Rolls Royce executive to lead Everett aerospace firm

magniX, which builds electric aircraft motors, has hired Nuno Taborda as its next CEO.

Epic Ford on the corner of 52nd Street and Evergreen Way in Everett is closed. The dealership has been in business for more than 50 years. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
After 50 years, Everett’s Epic Ford dealership closes shop

It opened in 1971, when gas guzzling muscle cars like the Ford Mustang still ruled the road.

Dan Bates / The Herald
When Seattle Genetics founder, Clay Siegall lost his father while in college, he switched from studying for an MD to studying for a PhD., and a goal to treat cancer patients.  His efforts are paying off in lives.
Bothell biotech CEO resigns after domestic-violence allegation

Clay Siegall co-founded Seagen, which develops therapies for cancer patients. He’s accused of attacking his wife.

FILE - A sign at a Starbucks location in Havertown, Pa., is seen April 26, 2022. Starbucks says it will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to access abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren't available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The Seattle coffee chain says, Monday, May 16, 2022, the benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)
Starbucks will cover travel for workers seeking abortions

Amazon and Tesla also will provide the benefit. Walmart and Facebook have stayed silent.

A barista pours steamed milk into a red paper cup while making an espresso drink at a Starbucks coffee shop in the Pike Place Market, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Seattle. It's as red as Santa's suit, a poinsettia blossom or a loud Christmas sweater. Yet Starbucks' minimalist new holiday coffee cup has set off complaints that the chain is making war on Christmas. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Interfaith group asks Starbucks to drop vegan milk surcharge

They say the practice amounts to a tax on people who have embraced plant-based lifestyles.

FILE - In this Monday, March 1, 2021 file photo, The first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle. A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday, Oct. 14,2021 by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Alaska Airlines to keep canceling flights at high level for weeks

Flight cancellations since April will continue. The chaos has been damaging for Seattle’s hometown airline.

FILE - An airplane flies past the Boeing logo on the company's headquarters in Chicago, on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Boeing Co., a leading defense contractor and one of the world's two dominant manufacturers of airline planes, is expected to move its headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, according to two people familiar with the matter. The decision could be announced as soon as later Thursday, May 5, 2022, according to one of the people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing expected to move headquarters from Chicago to DC area

The move would put Boeing executives close to their key customer, the Pentagon, and the FAA.

This 3D rendering shows Sila's 6000-foot facility in Moses Lake, to be used to manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials. (Business Wire)
New factory in Moses Lake will bring hundreds of new jobs

The plant will manufacture lithium-ion anode battery materials for cars and cellphones.

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters, Antares, in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Helion Energy: New Everett company has the sun in its eyes

The firm is the winner of a new award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County, called Opportunity Lives Here.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring is this year's winner of the Henry M. Jackson Award given by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Photographed in Marysville, Washington on April 25, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Jon Nehring: Longtime Marysville mayor who’s nurtured growth

He’s helped steer the city’s transformation and is winner of the Jackson Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Monti Ackerman, recipient of the John Fluke Award, is pictured Thursday, April 28, 2022, outside his office in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Monti Ackerman: A passionate volunteer and calculator whiz

The Fortive executive is the winner of this year’s Fluke Award by Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-38, is the recipient of this year's Henry M. Jackson award. The award recognizes a visionary leader who through partnership, tenacity and a strong commitment to community has created lasting opportunities to improve quality of life and positively impact the regional economy. Photographed in Everett, Washington on April 29, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Rep. Mike Sells: He fought for WSU Everett and worker rights

The retiring legislator is the recipient of the Floyd Award from Economic Alliance Snohomish County.