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The Incident of the Air Canada flight 759

The incident of the Air Canada Airbus A320-211, better known as Flight 759, occurred on July 7, 2017, in San Francisco. Air Canada 759 had departed Toronto Airport, with 135 passengers and 5 crew members on board, headed to the West coast of the United States. Despite a nominal take-off and a completely uneventful flight, it was during the approach to San Francisco airport, at about midnight local time, that an incident involving several aircraft occurred.

San Francisco Airport

San Francisco Airport (@reddit)

 San Francisco International Airport consists of four runways, runways 28L (left) and 28R (right) which are both parallel to each other,as well as two other runways perpendicular to these, 19L and 19R. In addition, runway 28R is also in parallel with taxiway C, allowing aircraft to taxi to and from the runways. However, this runway is only 150 meters (500 ft) apart with this taxiway, unlike the 230 meters (750 ft) with runway 28L.

To differentiate them at night, the runways and taxiways are illuminated with different colors and light intensities.

For example, in the case of this airport we can clearly differentiate the light intensity (red star) of the runway and the one of the taxiway (blue star). The color and light intensity difference allow the pilots to clearly see the 2 tracks.

The arrival in San Francisco

When the flight arrived at midnight local time, runway 28L had already been closed since 10 pm, so there was no lighter because of the low air traffic for that time. On final approach, the AC759 pilots lined up on the rightmost runway thinking it was runway 28R, when it was taxiway C. However, at that time, four aircraft were already waiting on this taxiway to wait for a runway clearance to take-off. These included two Boeing 787s, a Boeing 737 and an Airbus 340. All these planes, like the AC759, were full of passengers and fuel. In total, about 1000 people were on board.

While on final approach, AC759 pilots noticed something strange. Indeed, one of the aircraft positioned on the taxiway, having noticed the wrong positioning of the aircraft about to land, eventually turned on its headlights to warn AC759 pilots about the emergency. After numerous radio transmissions between the control tower and the pilots, the Air Canada pilots went around and avoided an accident that would have involved five aircraft and hundreds of people.


The investigation

After investigation, the AC759 pilots acknowledged that they confused runway 28R with taxiway C because they didn’t consider the closure of runway 28L. In addition, during the approach to land, the pilots did not use the ILS, which could have helped the pilots realize their right position. Finally, one of the most important factors is fatigue. The first officer and the captain didn’t have any rest for 12 and 19 hours respectively. Furthermore, according to the flight recorder, the distance between Air Canada and the tail of the Philippine Airlines A340 was between three and six meters.

Arrival of the AC759 in San Francisco (@Medium)

This incident was qualified as « The most significant near-miss we've had in this decade » according to the former NTSB president Jim Hall. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration eventually changed the night landing procedures for the San Francisco Airport to require pilots to use the instrument approach (ILS) so that no other incident like this would occur again.

Bibliography :

PLATON, « A quelques mètres de la tragédie : le vol 759 d’air canada a failli manquer en 2017 », Plato, 19 janvier 2022


« Vol Air Canada 759 », Wikipédia, 6 décembre 2023



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