‘Near miss’ investigations find weather, technology was a factor at Helsinki Airport incidents

Two incidents in two days involved passengers jets during winter.

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Picture from inside air traffic control tower at Helsinki Airport, January 2018 / Credit: OTKES

Accident investigators say that two near misses at Helsinki Airport on consecutive days earlier this year were the result of bad weather, lack of compliance with rules and a misunderstanding of air traffic control guideline.

According to the Safety Investigation Authority OTKES, in both cases, there was a possibility for a major accident at Finland’s busiest passenger airport, and they launched an investigation immediately in January. Their report has just now been released this week.

“There was no consistency with these two events but we wanted to review both incidents, one particular investigation, because it was a matter of air traffic control” OTKES Director  Veli-Pekka Nurmi told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday.

Passenger plane misses snow clearing vehicles

The first incident happened on 23rd January as air traffic control gave permission for a passenger jet to departure while three other vehicles at the same time were trying to clear snow from the runway.

“The air traffic controller forgot that vehicles were being used on the runway,” says Nurmi.

The jet, carrying 60 passenger, made a safe departure because the vehicles were not standing on a runway but instead next to it – a major accident was narrowly avoided the new report finds.

“Fortunately, the weather was good at the moment, it was a critical factor on this incident” says Ismo Aaltonen, the lead investigator for aviation accidents at OTKES.

The investigation finds that the proper procedures were not followed, and air traffic control couldn’t distinguish between planes and other vehicles on their computer screens.

Plane heads down wrong runway

The next day another major incident was narrowly avoided.

This time a commercial jet taxied to the wrong runway, just as another incoming plane was about to land.

According to the accident investigation report, air traffic control gave the jet permission to taxi, but it shouldn’t have gone all the way to an active runway. The incoming plane had to pull up just 2km from the runway.

“The flight crew crossed the taxiway and headed to the runway accidentally” says Aaltonen.

Unlike the previous day, weather conditions during this incident were extremely challenging, with a lot of snow and low visibility.

Both pilots were focused on flight operations and did not follow instructions properly. Taxing in such bad weather is a challenging task, says the OTKES report.