Delta Flight Lands at Wrong Airport

Photo of author

( — July 11, 2016) — Delta flight 2845 landed at a military airport instead of the South Dakota regional airport, the Guardian reports.

Delta spokesman Peter Knudson said Friday that Delta flight 2845 departed from Minneapolis, and landed with 130 passengers at Ellsworth Air Force Base at 8:42 p.m. Central Time Thursday. The destination airport was Rapid City, board spokesman Peter Knudson said on Friday.

A passenger interviewed by the Rapid City Journal said she and her fellow passengers waited about 2½ hours on the plane at Ellsworth. The passengers were ordered to pull down the window shades while armed military personnel inspected the plane with sniffer dogs.

The pilots of the Delta flight mistook the South Dakota Air Force base, which is about 10 miles due north of Rapid City Regional Airport,  for their destination.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the incident. The runway is not only near, but is orientated in the same direction as the one in Rapid City airport. However, GPS and other cutting edge navigational technology on the Airbus A320 are designed to assist trained pilots not only in pinpointing the exact location of the aircraft, but to navigate automatically to the destination.

In addition, the flight is followed by Air Traffic Control from the ground. They first guide the airplane on approach through the designated pattern towards the airport, then steer the airplane across various intersection points to a runway.

It is not yet clear if the mistake was solely on Delta’s A320 pilots or if they were misguided by ATC. The normal landing procedure is to use autopilot to line up with the runway. Although an Airbus is capable of landing completely by autopilot, captains normally switch to manual control right before reaching decision height for landing. The decision height is the last point during the landing procedure when a captain can make a call to land or to abort the landing.

Long before that point, the approach and the landing procedure require defining that the aircraft is about to land on the designated runway, so it is unclear how the pilots could have landed at the wrong airport.

“The crew has been taken off-duty while an investigation commences by the National Transportation Safety Board,” CNN cites the airline as saying in a statement. Delta has said they will fully cooperate with NTSB, however, they will also conducting their own investigation.