Quick pointer for a certain pair of Delta pilots:

The long strip of asphalt fringed by white lights is called a runway.  It’s for landing, or taking off.

The long strip of asphalt fringed by blue lights that’s often found next to that “runway” is called a taxiway.  As the name implies, it’s for taxiing the plane onto and off the “runway”. 

Try not to confuse the two.  The people using the taxiway for its intended purpose don’t usually expect a fully-loaded 737 to claim the right-of-way at 130 knots.

Seriously: that was an incredible stroke of luck, the taxiway being clear at a busy airport like Atlanta/Hartsfield.  Planes that taxi into position for takeoff are generally chock-full of fuel and passengers.  If the landing plane had collided with some hapless Delta 737 ambling down the taxiway, there would have been close to 400 fatalities on the ground.  Frightening.


22 thoughts on “NOTAM.

  1. Tam says:

    Okay, see, if you take off from the taxiway at LZU in your Hawker after the tower crew has gone home for the night, you may get away with it, provided nobody at the FBO decides to call the sky fuzz.

    Landing on the taxiway at the world’s busiest airport in a Boeing, however, is unlikely to pass unnoticed.

  2. Caleb says:

    Someone is getting their license jerked.

  3. JimmyT says:

    Well let’s cut them some slack, they were on a flight from Rio and I am guessing they were so happy from having beaten the US out of those pesky Olympic games they were light headed and could not tell the white from blue. Is not Rio a happening place, they may have all their asphalt ringed with colored lighting.

    Talk about lucky, they were in a 767 which would have made quite a mess in a collision with any other aircraft.
    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  4. Tam says:

    Incidentally, the aforementioned Hawker incident at LZU was made more exciting by the fact that the Hawker was well and truly committed to the takeoff run on the taxiway… which had a front-end loader and a bunch of orange-n-white barrels blocking the last third or so if its length.

    I’m not saying you could hear the pilot’s asshole slam shut even over the noise of the jets, but let’s say that it was my first view of a REALLY maximum performance takeoff of a bizjet. And he still probably only cleared the construction equipment by 50′ of vertical separation.

    • Windy Wilson says:

      Famously, during the Vietnam war there was a story of a general officer who put in a request for a Purple Heart for an injury incurred during a bombardment by the North Vietnamese Army.
      He strained his spincter.
      I think this pilot would have had the same injury.

  5. shooter says:

    Every once in a while, a plane inbound for Brownsville, Tx. will goof and land at the local Naval Auxillary field by mistake. Usually happens in the spring and autumn months when visual conditions can become hazy (note: the NAS runway is on the same heading as the Brownsville runway when approaching from the Gulf). Pilots smart enough will only touch-n-go and head direct to B’ville. Only once I’ve heard where the dummy pulled off the runway looking for the gate. Something that stupid will get your license pulled immediately.

  6. Dr. Feelgood says:

    The first time I climbed in to the F-16 sim in my fighter squadron I had no clue how to use the navigation instruments (I was a lowly 18-year-old enlisted maintainer) and lined up for a VFR approach on the taxiway by mistake. When the screen resolution improved to show my error I executed a stupidly dangerous maneuver to get lined up on the runway and put the “plane” down in decent shape, albeit a bit long (had to drop the hook and take the cable). I suspect such a maneuver is not possible in a 767.

  7. John says:

    At least they didn’t try to land on the strip that’s 150 feet long and 8500 feet wide!

  8. MarkHB says:

    Coal.. coal.. I need a lump of coal.

    Then I’ll shove it up my ass, read this again and make a freaking diamond. That’s terrifying!

  9. jimbob86 says:

    Trying to beat Tenerife’s longstanding record?

    • Marko Kloos says:

      Tenerife was two fully packed 747s. Until we have a midair or a runway incursion incident with two of the new A380s, I’m pretty sure that record will stand for a while.

  10. Windy Wilson says:

    Culver City, California was once home to the longest privately owned air strip in the country, possibly the world (Hughes Aircraft Company).
    Once in (I don’t recall exactly) either the late 60’s or early 70’s an Aeromexicana Airlines pilot landed his 737 there, thinking it was LAX. I don’t recall what the repercussions were.
    Another time a family friend was recounting the story of a friend of his who made an emergency landing at some military air base, after radioing his emergency the base shut the landing lights off! He was quite proud of making the landing in the dark.

  11. Matt says:

    That beats the Continental crew who landed at an abandoned airfield near Corpus Christi thinking it was the International airport. I was living in Texas at the time and that made the news. They had to bus the passengers to the “real” airport and had a different crew come in to fly the 737 out. I’ll bet you got to see a rather sprightly take-off performance then.

    I had the pleasure of being on an Olympic Airways 737-200 on a hop from Crete to Athens. I’ve never done a 30+ degree climb out before and haven’t since. Quite fun to watch crew struggling to prevent drink carts from having their own private “soap box derby”. I remember a rubber ball bouncing down the aisle in free fall. For some reason, they don’t do that here on US airliners. I can’t figure out why. 🙂

    Tam: I have a friend who is an ex-Learjet pilot. He got permission on a ferry flight from North Carolina to do a maximum performance takeoff. Controller agreed and got to see what happens when a Lear 35 is allowed to play. Apparently they got the controller to use a few choice words of praise when he saw said jet liftoff and do its best F-15 impression. According to my friend, it was the best fun he ever had in the Lear or with his clothes on (his words) and had to level off when they hit the “do not exceed” speed still climbing.

    On Lears, this is vitally important because if you do, the ailerons tend to reverse and the wings tear off shortly thereafter. They’re very sensitive to high subsonic Mach numbers.

    Hell, I’ve been in a couple of “interesting” situations in light aircraft including being seconds away from a 1 on 3 mid-air. I can still remember that incident like it was yesterday.

    • Tam says:

      Tam: I have a friend who is an ex-Learjet pilot. He got permission on a ferry flight from North Carolina to do a maximum performance takeoff. Controller agreed and got to see what happens when a Lear 35 is allowed to play.

      When I was working at LZU, one of the Colvin charters handling the Lab Corp runs was using one of the little early Lear bottle rockets (23? 24? One cabin window and no-bypass noisemakers…) The pilot on the run was sweet on me and used to do maximum performance departures to show off. It was muy cool to watch. 🙂

  12. ATLien says:

    Were they using the ILS? Used to work for the D, and we would watch them land a lot. They never did any complete auto-landings, but you could tell when they took over to manually land. It was pretty low, low enough that you would notice that you were landing on the taxiway.

  13. Kristopher says:

    Dr Feelgood:

    Actually, that maneuver is possible.

    I watched a UPS 4 engined trash hauler line up on the wrong parallel runway at PDX … and, instead of aborting and going around, the pilot did his own version of Tsar 52, performed two steeply banked opposite turns over the light rail station I was waiting at.

    He clipped one of the plum trees with a wing tip … and left some of it in the tree, and purple leaves and twigs embedded in the wing.

    I called FSS on my cell-phone, and they came out with the NTSB folks to haul off the large branch with the wingtip embedded in it. The FSS folks told me they did find matching foliage inside the wing at the UPS hanger.

    I don’t think that trash hauler is working no more …

  14. formerflyer says:

    One thing that might become apparent from the high number of these stories is that this is a REALLY easy mistake to make. There’s a distinct lack of road signs in the air. Ad in some contributing factors such as:
    -flying into a city you may not be familiar with
    -landing on a runway you’ve not used before
    -a medical emergency on board
    -a bit of haze
    -a tower insisting on visual approaches
    -inadequate crew rest (crews with “legal” amounts of rest are sometimes almost unable to maintain consciousness after a long trip, some of them failing field sobriety tests during an interesting experiment a couple of decades ago)
    and these kinds of things can happen to otherwise competent pilots.

    The cockpit can get unbelievably busy in a real hurry sometimes, and pilots are trained to aggressively load-shed under stress. Plane is down, passengers are safe, sheet metal isn’t wrinkled? Good landing. Wrong airfield/wrong runway? Sometimes you just have to take that under advisement and let someone else figure out the paperwork. More than once I’ve said to myself, “Just get this thing back on the ground with nobody dead, and I don’t care what happens after that.” Point is, we don’t know how much “in extremis” the crew was at the end of that flight. Let’s see what the investigators say after they get a chance to review.

  15. Kristopher says:

    Add to that management that considers a go-around, and its fuel usage, to be a firing offense.

    Pilots are forced to choose between potentially stupid acts, and their job.

    • MarkHB says:

      Wudnit be great if the FAA took the side of pilots in little matters like “A safety go-around gets you fired for wasting fuel”? Maybe in the ‘verse where Spock has a beard…

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