The NTSB’s recent safety alert #033 reminds pilots that without adequate preparation, robust monitoring and position cross-checking using all available resources, flight crews may misidentify a nearby airport that they see during the approach to their destination. Precisely that has happened twice in the past six months, once in January when a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 crew mistook Graham Clark Downtown Airport in Branson, Mo., for the city’s main airport, and again in November 2013 when an Atlas Air Boeing 747 Dreamlifter was mistakenly landed at Wichita’s Col. Jabara Airport when its actual destination was nearby McConnell AFB.
“The risk of an accident increases because the runway at the wrong airport may not be long enough to accommodate the landing airplane, as well as the fact that other aircraft operating at the airport may be unaware of potential conflicting traffic,” warned the NTSB. An important element of the safety alert mentions that pilots should not rely on air traffic controllers as a safety net. In both recent incidents, controllers did not notice the aircraft heading for the wrong airports.