U.S. regulators are investigating how a Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV:US) jet landed at the wrong Missouri airport, the second such incident involving a U.S. commercial plane in two months.
Yesterday’s incident in Branson, Missouri, is under review by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, the agencies said. Flight 4013 from Chicago carried 124 passengers and five crew members, said Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest.
The Boeing Co. 737 touched down at M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport in Branson, which is seven miles (11 kilometers) from the city’s main commercial facility and has a runway only about half as long. The flight was normal until the pilot aggressively slammed on the brakes to stop, said Scott Schieffer, a passenger.
“I was wearing my seatbelt and I was very glad I had it on,” Schieffer, a Dallas tax and estate planning attorney, said in an interview today. “We were lurched forward because of the force as the brakes were applied.”
The case echoed an errant nighttime landing Nov. 20 in Wichita, Kansas, when an Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. (AAWW:US) jumbo-jet freighter used a municipal airport instead of McConnell Air Force Base. Flight 4013 landed at 6:11 p.m. local time after a 4:54 p.m. departure from Chicago’s Midway airport, according to industry data tracker FlightAware.com. Sunset was about 5:18 p.m.
Crash-proof recorders that store flight data and pilot conversations were taken from the plane and are being sent to the NTSB’s Washington headquarters, according to an agency statement. The NTSB also plans to interview the crew.
“It’s very early in the investigation,” Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a weekly recorded message to employees today. “We’ll want to understand very quickly what happened here.”
There was “an additional person in the cockpit” of the flight, Kelly said in the recording, without providing specifics. Pilots sometimes ride in a plane’s cockpit when they are off duty and traveling, often to their next flight. The practice is known as deadheading.
Southwest fell 1.3 percent to $ 20.75 at 1:20 p.m. in New York. The stock rose 90 percent in the year that ended Jan. 10.
The landing strip at Downtown airport, also known as Taney County, is 3,738 feet long, compared with 7,140 feet at Branson Airport, according to aviation website AirNav.com. At 100 feet wide, it’s narrower than the wingspan of the 737-700, which is 112 feet, 7 inches. A 737-700 with winglets has a span of 117 feet, 5 inches, according to Boeingâs website.
Flight 4013 stopped at the southeast end of the airport, about 100 to 200 feet from a rocky embankment above a highway, Schieffer said. Schieffer said he didn’t notice how close the jet had come to the slope until a local official told him after he exited 90 minutes after touchdown.
After the landing, a flight attendant came on the public address system and said, “Welcome to Branson,” according to Schieffer. A few minutes later, a pilot corrected that. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry to tell you that we landed at the wrong airport,” he said, according to Schieffer. The pilot apologized for the inconvenience several times, Schieffer said.
Passengers and their baggage were taken by bus from Downtown airport to Branson, said Hawkins, the spokesman. Another plane was brought in to fly the next leg of the trip, to Dallas, and the jet used for Flight 4013 should be flown out today, Southwest said on its website.
Normal airport operations resumed about three hours after the landing when the plane was moved to a parking apron, said Mark Parent, the manager. He said the landing didn’t damage the runway, which handles 10,000 to 15,000 flights a year.
In the Atlas case, pilots landed at a municipal airfield with a runway half as long as that at the Air Force base. The pilots initially thought they had landed at the Beech Factory Airport in Wichita, according to a recording of radio calls on LiveATC.net.
The modified Boeing 747-400 Dreamlifter with an expanded fuselage designed to carry parts for Boeing’s latest model, the 787, took off the next day with a new crew and landed at McConnell. The FAA and Boeing investigated the incident.
In 2009, a Delta Air Lines Inc. (DAL:US) flight overshot the Minneapolis airport after the pilots became distracted while working on their company-issued laptops, according to the NTSB.
“It’s not uncommon to have the incidents during the landing phase,” said David Esser, professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida. Pilots can grow fatigued over the course of the flight, and landings require the most acuity, Esser said.
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