Ambiguous temporary airport works lighting contributes to night landing runway undershoot

Key points:

  • Displaced threshold in-place for runway works
  • Airport safety officer’s car headlights were directed at reflective witches’ hats which to the pilots appeared as a row of lights across the runway
  • Pilots misidentified the aerodrome works limit line as the displaced runway threshold lights

Ambiguous temporary airport works lighting contributed to an aeromedical King Air aircraft’s tyre striking an unseen temporary runway end light when landing at Cairns Airport at night, a new ATSB investigation details.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft with a pilot in command under instruction, a supervisory pilot, a flight nurse and two patients on-board, landed on Cairns Airport’s runway 15 shortly after midnight on 9 July 2020. Due to on-going night runway works, runway 15’s threshold was displaced.

During the approach, the flight crew sighted an airport safety officer’s car with its headlights directed at what appeared to be a row of lights across the runway, illuminating the displaced threshold. The aircraft passed above the row of lights and touched down beyond it. However, the aircraft had landed short of the actual displaced threshold and a tyre struck an unseen temporary runway end light.

“The ATSB found that the airport safety officer’s car headlights were directed at reflective witches’ hats that marked the works limit line, which was in front of the displaced threshold,” noted ATSB Acting Director Transport Safety Kerri Hughes.

“To the flight crew, this appeared as a row of lights across the runway. As a result, the flight crew misidentified the aerodrome works limit line as the displaced runway threshold lights. The actual displaced threshold lights were also indistinguishable from the taxiway lights that remained illuminated during the approach. This resulted in a runway undershoot as the aircraft landed short of the displaced threshold.”

While the runway was closed at night for normal operations during the works, a portion of the runway was available to the RFDS with prior notice, with the runway 15 threshold temporarily displaced by 1,856 metres.

The flight crew were unaware that their aircraft had struck anything on landing with the broken temporary runway end light – which had been taped to be unidirectional to aircraft using the reciprocal runway 33 and was therefore not visible to flight crew when they landed on runway 15 – discovered later that morning by an airport safety officer. An inspection of the aircraft identified a scuff mark on the right main landing gear tyre.

“Aerodrome works can pose a hazard to aircraft, particularly where there are unusable portions of a runway and a displaced runway threshold,” noted Ms Hughes.

“Aerodrome works markings and lighting must be unambiguous and laid out in accordance with relevant standards, to minimise the likelihood of confusion for flight crew and the potential for a runway undershoot or excursion.”

The ATSB’s investigation found that works and airport safety officers did not ensure the aerodrome works lighting was arranged such that the location of the displaced threshold was unambiguous to the flight crew. In addition, Cairns Airport procedures for temporary runway works lighting and markings were inconsistent and did not ensure lighting was not confusing to pilots.

Following the incident Cairns Airport implemented a number of safety actions for the remaining runway works, including ensuring that vehicle headlights were not directed towards the active runway, and illuminating taxiway lights only after an aircraft had landed.

You can find here the report: AO-2020-034: Runway undershoot involving Beechcraft 200, VH-FDO, Cairns Airport, Queensland, on 9 July 2020

Last update 03 February 2021

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.