Atlas Air, which operates Boeing 747 Dreamlifter cargo flights, explained how pilots headed to McConnell Air Force Base mistakenly landed at Jabara Airport nine miles to the north in an internal crew-training video, according to a report by Aviation International News.
The wayward Dreamlifter, carrying large Boeing 787 airframe sections, landed at the smaller Jabara Airport on Nov. 20. The errant landing received national and international media attention.
Initially, the crew thought they had landed at Beech Field nearby.
The next day, with crowds watching, the plane took off for a very short trip to McConnell.
An Atlas Air spokeswoman declined a request to release the video to The Eagle.
According to AIN, which said it obtained the video, Atlas Air flight operations vice president Jeff Carlson said intermittent issues with the first officer’s primary flight display earlier in the flight made the pilots skeptical about the reliability of the plane’s automation system.
The flight took place at night in good weather.
According to the AIN report:
The pilot programmed an instrument approach to Runway 19 at McConnell that would have put the plane 3,000 feet over Jabara Airport.
Carlson explains in the video, that visual approaches to McConnell in the past had put the pilots at a higher-than-expected altitude. So the flying pilot decided to make an instrument approach because of difficulties picking out McConnell’s runway, according to AIN.
The two pilots did not brief each other about other airports in the area or the approach lighting system at McConnell, both of which could have helped them verify their intended airport.
Federal Aviation Administration approach controllers in Wichita cleared the 747 for the instrument procedure when the plane was 25 miles out, then switched the plane to McConnell’s tower, which cleared the plane to land.
The plane remained on autopilot until the pilot saw a brightly lit runway slightly to his left, which seemed to match McConnell’s runway.
Since the pilot thought the plane was too high to land, he disconnected the autopilot and increased the rate of descent to what he thought was McConnell’s 19L runway. It was actually Runway 18 at Jabara.
The other pilot monitoring the landing was uncertain of the runway’s identity but remained silent, the video said, according to AIN.
The main reason for the wrong landing was the flying pilot’s late decision to abandon the instrument approach for a visual approach that required him to hand-fly the plane, Carlson said in the video. Inadequate monitoring by the other pilot contributed to the incident, AIN reported.
At the same time, the tower controller failed to notice that the airplane was descending toward the wrong airport, it said.
Atlas Air now requires pilots to remain on an instrument approach procedure, even in visual conditions, until they begin the final approach to the runway, according to the report.
The training video has not been released to the public, AIN said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.