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Approaches and Landings at Wrong Airports: Analysis of 54 Incidents and 11 Accidents, 1981–2004

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de Voogt AJ, van Doorn RRA. Approaches and landings at wrong airports: analysis of 54 incidents and 11 accidents, 1981–2004. Aviat Space Environ Med 2007; 78:117–120.

Background: Inadvertent approaches and landings at airports other than the intended destination are instances of pilot disorientation. The circumstances that lead to such navigational errors point toward preventive measures. The objective was to gain insight into the circumstances of a wrong airport approach or landing as well as the moment at which the navigation error became apparent to the pilot. Methods: Accident reports published by the National Safety Transportation Board for the period 1981 through 2004 were studied in combination with Federal Aviation Administration incident reports of the same period. Results: In the studied period there were 54 incidents and 11 accidents. There were 15 pilots who tried to avoid a landing, which in 5 cases led to an accident. All other pilots made a full-stop landing at the wrong airport. Damage to the aircraft was significantly more likely during night flights and in flights with a student or pilot with a private pilot license. Corrective measures during the landing procedure, such as a go-around or a touch-and-go landing, accounted for 42% of the accidents. Eighty percent of the cases were reported in the first 12 yr of the studied period and 20% in the last 12 yr. Conclusions: A further implementation of GPS receivers in all aircraft could further reduce the number of incidents and accidents. Pilots need to be made aware of the dangers of a visual approach after an IFR flight without following an airport identification procedure. Recommendations include a comparison of airports in the vicinity of a destination airport and the use of GPS to assist in an identification procedure.
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Keywords: becoming lost; geographical disorientation; night flight; situational awareness; topographical disorientation; way-finding

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2007

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