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The Strangest Aviation Safety Report We've Ever Seen

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Just when you think you've seen it all, you come across this.

We spend quite a bit of time going through accident and safety reports, finding areas where pilots make mistakes, so we can all learn from them (and hopefully not make them ourselves).

This week we came across a pretty wild one from Torrance, CA.

First off, here's the NASA Safety Report, written by the Air Traffic Controller:

The Report From ATC

I was working the Controller in Charge (CIC) position because the supervisor was doing a skill check for a trainee on the local control position. Aircraft X called Ground Control (GC) for taxi and the pilot requested to takeoff on taxiway Charlie. GC informed the pilot that was not allowed at TOA and the pilot then requested to takeoff Runway 11R even though the wind was favoring Runway 29L/R and Runway 29L/R was in use at the time. Due to the low volume of traffic GC approved the request and taxied the aircraft to runway 11R for departure.

Aircraft X was cleared for takeoff and once airborne wanted to land Runway 29L. The local controller cleared the pilot to land on Runway 29L. The pilot read it back correctly and then we observed the pilot land in the grass just north of the runway. He came to a complete stop and then a transmission was blocked and the pilot took off in the grass without any communication from Local Control (LC). At this point LC issued the aircraft left traffic for Runway 29L and cleared the pilot to land again on Runway 29L. As the CIC, I instructed my supervisor and trainee on LC to emphasize Runway 29L pavement but nothing further was said.

The aircraft landed in the grass again and at that point the supervisor told the aircraft that he needed to exit the runway to the left and call the tower. The pilot just said OK and followed instructions. Aircraft X called GC and GC issued the pilot instructions to taxi back to parking and asked him if he was ready to copy the phone number for the tower. The pilot said he was too busy taxiing and that he would find the number himself. The supervisor told the ground controller not to issue the brasher. At that point I had another controller get the supervisor and trainee off position so the supervisor could relieve me because I was at 2 hours on position. The pilot called and spoke with the supervisor and was very rude and told the supervisor that he could land wherever he wanted and that we were the only airport that would not allow him to land in the grass. The pilot said that in the past the tower had made a big deal of him doing this so that is why he just did it without asking.

Synopsis: The Tower Controller observed an aircraft intentionally land on the grass field next to the assigned runway twice.

Not Your Average Flight

There aren't too many pilots that would ever dream of making a flight like this.

So what can you learn from it?

First, there's nothing illegal about landing in the grass, or even a taxiway for that matter, as long as you're not violating FAR 91.13. But you do need a clearance from tower to do so, and this pilot clearly didn't have it.

Second, if you're too afraid to ask, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

And third, if you really want to land off-pavement, the United States has over 8,000 grass and unpaved strips to choose from. Fly to one of them, have fun, and let the tower controllers clear aircraft to land on the runways.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

Images Courtesy:

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