Have you ever missed… An airport?

The recent news that a Northwest flight overshot the Minneapolis-St Paul airport by some 150 miles was fairly unusual. After all, we are not talking about a small private aircraft but a large commercial airliner that is (apparently in theory) in constant contact with air traffic control.

As James Fallows noted on the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association (COPA) blog, they “did not make an ordinary mistake, like missing Exit 32A on a busy freeway and having to get off on Exit 32B.This is more like….” However, he further comments that:

Once when I was flying westward toward the Rapid City airport in South Dakota, I found myself lining up 25 miles away instead with the much bigger runway of Ellsworth Air Force Base nearby. I must not have been the first one to do so, because the controller said in a routine way, "What you’re probably heading for is Ellsworth. You want to turn your head ten degrees to the left and look for a little airport that’s closer. That’s where you want to go." This was embarrassing enough, and it was just my wife and me, not a bunch of paying passengers.

And if you look at the Google Earth picture of the area, one can see how he and other pilots might easily mistake the larger runway for the smaller one – especially from a distance on a hazy day or if the sun is setting. However, missing an international airport is another story.

Nevertheless and not to embarrass any pilot out there but we must ask: Have you ever missed or have nearly missed an airport? Moreover, are there some airports out there where pilots, especially those unfamiliar with the area or in certain weather conditions or at certain times of the day, could simply miss?


2 Responses to Have you ever missed… An airport?

  1. Sylvia October 24, 2009 at 12:45 #

    I got toally focused on the wrong airfield once. It was my first time there but even so, it was pretty embarrassing.

    Here's the google map:


    I was coming in from the north and saw Silverstone and somehow got it into my head that that the triangle on the south side was my target. If you look to the southwest, you'll see Turweston, which is where I was supposed to be going.

    At some point, it kicked in that I needed to do a right-turn to join the circuit and thus something was very wrong. A quick glance at the GPS cleared things up immediately.

  2. Julien October 25, 2009 at 07:30 #

    Haven't missed an airport yet, but you know how the saying goes, there's those who have and those who will… I find grass runways in coastal (lush, or at least green) areas very hard to find, I usually first find the gable markers, then the airplanes, then the runway! Dirt runways in the Australian outback are very hard to find too, but thankfully the metal hangars nearby cannot be confused with much else.

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