At busy airports, effective and clear communication between pilots and controllers is essential. Especially when there is a risk of mixing active slopes. An A350 pilot had a problem in San Francisco.
Qatar Airways flight 738 connects the California coastal city of San Francisco with the Doha hub daily, with an Airbus A350-1000 flying the more than 13,000 km route. While the flight duration was scheduled to be 15:25 hours, there were problems in the first few minutes in the late afternoon of October 11, delaying everything a bit.
San Francisco International Airport features parallel runways that intersect at right angles. In normal operation, the shorter runways 01L/01R are used for takeoff and 28L/28R for landing. Wide-body aircraft in particular like to use the much longer runways 28L and 28R for their take-offs. In San Francisco, this means you must cross the other two ramps on the way there.
Confusion over piste names
The Airbus A350-1000 with registration A7-ANP departed gate A8 at 4:25 pm local time and began moving under clearance from the controller in charge. While taxiways Alpha and Lima were often used to avoid runways 01L/R, the long-range jet with the call sign Qatari One Eight November Heavy was given a slightly more direct route via the Hotel taxiway. However, this crosses the two active slopes.
And then the problem started. During the conversation, the Airbus A350 pilot who was on the radio chose the opposite direction name for the two runways, i.e. “19” instead of “01”. It was in this context that the first error occurred: instead of confirming the stop in front of runway 01L, the pilot returned “Hold Short of Runway 19L” (runway 01R). The pilot admitted the mistake and immediately cleared up the misunderstanding.
On the way to the waiting point, the pilot also gave the command to listen to the tower frequency and expect a call. In order to cross active slopes, appropriate clearance from the tower controller is required. However, the pilot does not follow this order.
The tower controller tried five times to contact the waiting A350, to no avail. The ground controller came to his aid and ordered the pilot to finally change the frequency. Once mutual communication was confirmed, the tower controller reminded him “that he had to be on his frequency if he wanted to be transmitted.”
The A350 was cleared to transit Runway 01L and stop in front of Runway 01R (“Passing Runway 1L, Stay Short of Runway 1R”) because the American Airlines flight was preparing for takeoff. The Airbus moved to the next stop.
Left and right problems
Finally, the tower controller gave clearance to taxi to runway 01R and an additional taxi clearance to the “Foxtrot” station in front of runway 28L. While the pilot correctly repeated the taxi clearance and hold point this time, he omitted to confirm the active runway 01R crossing clearance.
However, all versions regarding the runway must be re-read verbatim. So the tower pilot repeated his instructions. But instead of repeating the instructions without error, the pilot makes another error from left to right. Although it now correctly confirms the transit clearance for Runway 01R, it confuses “Runway 28L” and “Runway 28R”.
“Stay on my frequency!”
Radio recordings show that the control device slowed down. There are now “three consecutive misreadings” and the pilot must “listen closely.” He takes note of the criticism and reads the statement correctly but hesitantly. Once again, he wants to refer to runway 01R as “runway 19L”.
While the controller was looking after the Qatar Airways pilot, the American Airlines plane took off. “Sorry, you had to listen to all that,” the controller told them en route before ordering the departure frequency to be changed to “departing NorCal (Northern California).”
Instead of the American Airlines pilot speaking out, the Qatar Airways pilot’s voice blares back on the frequency, which responds to the command to change the frequency. Pilot explodes: No! Why are they turning to Northern Departure? I still work with them. I have multiple planes on my frequency, listen to their call signs! Stay on my frequency!”
Start without any problems
The A350-1000 then taxied to runway 28L in accordance with the command and crossed it after obtaining the necessary clearance. The subsequent takeoff of the very long flight on Runway 28R was completed without any further problems. Incidentally, there was no farewell between the two parties, as the pilots planned to change the frequency independently after taking off on the east and west runways 28L/28R. The plane landed back in Doha after exactly fifteen hours of flying and without any further incidents.
Watch the video of the incident in English below:
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