Following a widely publicized near-disaster at SFO last month in which an Air Canada jet came within feet of crashing into four planes full of people on a taxiway, the FAA is making changes to how planes land at the airport.
As the Associated Press reports, pilots making nighttime landings when one runway is shut down for maintenance can no longer perform so-called "visual" or manual landings, and must rely on instrument landing systems.
Also, SFO's air traffic control tower must be staffed with at least two controllers on busy late-night shifts, as opposed to just one as it was on the night of July 7 when this incident occurred.
Via FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor, the Chronicle learns that the new policies were put in place immediately after the incident.
The two pilots in the cockpit of the Air Canada jet were making a landing at 11:45 p.m. on July 7 in clear conditions, and they say that they mistook the taxiway for Runway 28R, where they were supposed to land. Typically SFO has two parallel, brightly lit runways, 28L and 28R, but the lights on 28L were turned off that night because it was undergoing repaving. As the AP explains, 28L has reopened, however runways are frequently closed down for maintenance and this situation may arise again.
The Air Canada plane lined up to land on the taxiway, which was not lit up as brightly as the actual runway, and the pilots have told investigators that they thought "something didn't look right." In a flight recording they can be heard trying to reconfirm that they were cleared to land, and shortly thereafter, one of the pilots in one of the planes on the taxiway screams, "They're on the taxiway!" and it's only then that the air traffic controller orders the plane, barely in the nick of time, to "go around."
Later analysis showed that the Air Canada plane came within 59 feet of the ground, or just a few feet above the tail of a United Airlines jet waiting to take off.
It remains unclear whether the two pilots are still employed with Air Canada.