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?