Skip to Content

Air Travelers Are Facing a Growing Menace, and Safety Regulators Want to Stop It

Safety regulators are reportedly set to recommend new cockpit warning systems as a way to avoid a growing hazard for air passengers: pilots mistakenly landing on taxiways rather than runways.

In the last four years, there have been several close calls at U.S. airports, most famously one involving an Air Canada flight that last July almost landed on a San Francisco International Airport taxiway where four packed planes were sitting.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will meet Tuesday to discuss the cause of the Air Canada near-miss and adopt findings to finalize the investigation.

According to Bloomberg, investigators think the pilots misidentified the taxiway as the runway because they were tired and not up-to-speed on construction works at the airport. The pilots told investigators that they didn’t see the planes on the taxiway, but the scene “didn’t look right.”

The incident led the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to tighten up control tower rules—only one controller was in the tower at the time of the Air Canada near-miss, and the rules now say two must be in position during busy periods at night.

The NTSB will likely recommend new warning systems in cockpits and control towers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Cost concern and pushback from the airlines sunk such a proposal before, but new bipartisan legislation—aimed at reauthorizing the FAA—will order the FAA and NTSB to look into the feasibility of new ground-based warning systems.

“There seems to be a significant number of taxiway events we didn’t use to see,” former Delta safety chief John Marshall told the Journal. “Those are horrific types of accidents.”