Gatwick near-disaster is blamed on aviation body

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The Independent Online
THE FAILURE of the Civil Aviation Authority to take sufficient action after an aircraft landed on a taxiway at Gatwick in 1988 nearly caused a major disaster in a similar incident last year.

A report released by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch yesterday found that the incident, when an Air Malta Boeing 737 carrying 101 passengers and crew landed on the taxiway last October, would have been avoided if runway lighting had been altered after the first incident.

The pilots of the jet were confused by the lighting on the two runways and the taxiway, which all run parallel to each other, and mistook the taxiway for the right-hand runway 26R, which is normally a taxiway but is used for landing and taking off when the main runway is closed for maintenance. Fortunately the taxiway was not in use and the aircraft landed safely.

The report does criticise the pilots for not having familiarised themselves with the lighting of runway 26R after they circled for 10 minutes after being told they would be using it, but lays most of the blame on the CAA for its failure to respond adequately to the first incident. In 1988, a BAC 1-11 landed on the same taxiway in darkness after the flight crew thought it was the main runway. The subsequent report blamed the 'similar visual appearance' of the runway and taxiway.

While the CAA did carry out some of the recommendations, it refused to accept two relating to the green centreline on the taxiway.

Yesterday's report, however, criticises the chaotic state of lighting at the airport and further confusion caused by lights from contractors' vehicles on the runway. 'Investigation of this incident has revealed a lack of procedures to ensure the co-ordinated management of all the airfield lighting at London Gatwick, so that undue prominence of a particular feature, such as the taxiway, is not inadvertently displayed,' it said.

The AAIB recommends a review of all lighting, emphasising again that the green centreline on the taxiway should not be visible to pilots landing at the airport.

The CAA has now accepted all these recommendations and says the work will take place in early 1995.