There’s been three notable incidents of late in which flight crew have mistakenly landed at the wrong airport – see the Dreamlifter, a C-17 and a Southwest 737. A third was almost added this past Tuesday morning when an Air India Boeing 787-8 registered VT-ANM mistook Melbourne’s Essendon Airport for Melbourne International Airport (Tullamarine).

Operating AI301 from Sydney to Melbourne VT-ANM approached and crossed Melbourne from the east following usual tracking paths for aircraft inbound from the north-east to YMML’s active Runway 34.

The flight crew initiated a right turn to lining up for Essendon’s Runway 35 mistaking it for YMML’s Runway 34. Essendon Airport is located 4.5nm to southeast of Melbourne International Airport, and has a similar cross-runway layout to Melbourne with the runway headings only offset 1 degree.

ATIS at the time of incident reported strong gusty winds, but CAVOK (Ceiling And Visibility OK) conditions meaning visibility was at least 10 kilometres.

TMP: 33 QNH: 1013 SIGWX: EXP TURB IN CCT AREA. WND: 350/25 MIN, MAX 35 KTS. WIND AT 500 FT 340/40. WX: CAVOK.

Sources in Airservices Australia confirm the flight crew discontinued the approach at roughly 1,050 ft after being notified by Melbourne Approach, made a left turn, climbed to 1,500 ft and re-established a second approach this time to Runway 34. The capture below shows the approach track of VT-ANM, with a clear initial approach to Essendon.

Essendon’s Runway 35 measures 1504x45m. A rough back of the envelope density calculation based on conditions at the time of the incident gives a density altitude of around 3,500 feet. Of course we don’t know the exact loading of the aircraft on the day, but based on Boeing’s 787 Performance charts, it’s unlikely that the aircraft would’ve been able to stop in time had it touched down.

Perhaps they were using Apple Maps?

Approximate track of VT-ANM as it approached Essendon and then re-established an approach to Melbourne Airport’s Runway 34.

Feature image by hartlandmartin on flickr