An Air Canada flight attempting to land at San Francisco International Airport nearly touched down on a taxiway crowded with planes, the FAA said in a statement. Air Canada Flight 759, a 146-seat Airbus A320, was cleared to land on Runway 28R, but the pilot "inadvertently" lined up for Taxiway C, which runs parallel to the runway, according to the FAA. There were four aircraft lined up on Taxiway C at the time.
Aviation-safety consultant Todd Curtis said it was "definitely a serious event since a landing on an active taxiway could lead to a catastrophic accident."
In audio posted on liveatc.net, which records flight communications, the pilot on the plane from Toronto and the air traffic controller sounded calm as the close call unfolded. At first, the pilot said he sees "some lights on the runway". Apparently alluding to planes on the taxiway, the aviation equivalent of feeder roads that planes use to roll between runways and terminals. The controller assures the pilot there is no one on the runway. Seconds later, another voice – apparently one of the pilots on the taxiway – interjects, "Where's this guy going? He's on the taxiway."
The controller orders the Air Canada jet to "go around," and the pilot acknowledges the command. Roughly 30 seconds later, a United Airlines pilot on the taxiway says the jet "flew directly over us."
The Airbus A320 with 135 passengers and five crew members “landed normally without incident,” Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesman, said Tuesday, adding that the airline is investigating the incident.
The spokesman for the FAA said that it is unclear how close the landing aircraft came to the four planes waiting for takeoff and that it is investigating the incident. It is uncommon for pilots to mistake taxiways for runways, though such errors typically involve smaller airplanes at small airports, the Associated Press reported.