Most of the time when the multiple layers of safety that govern air operations catch an error and prevent an accident, the public never hears about it. But an Air Canada A320 crew was caught in a media maelstrom earlier this week when they lined up on a taxiway instead of one of the tightly spaced parallel runways at San Francisco International Airport. The crew and controllers caught the error at about the same time and the A320 went around. There were four aircraft on the taxiway waiting to take off and a pilot on one reported that the aircraft flew overhead. Someone recorded the brief exchange and the next day the headlines declared that a “disaster” had been averted.
San Francisco was the scene of a major accident in 2013 when an Air Asiana Boeing 777 undershot one of those runways and broke apart on the runway. Three people were killed. In this incident, even though there was little danger of an accident, the local media suggested that something on the order of the disaster at Tenerife involving a runway incursion between two Boeing 747s had been narrowly avoided. The FAA is investigating and the A320 pilots will likely be meeting with their bosses.