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Fatigued Pilots Land On The Wrong Runway After A Visual Approach Clearance

Mark Winterbourne

Visual approaches can be tough in the IFR world, especially when you're flying jets. Here's how one experienced, dual-ATP rated crew landed on a runway 6,000 feet shorter than the ATC-cleared runway.

The Scenario

We found the following NASA ASRS report, written in 2019 from two ATP-rate pilots. It's a perfect demonstration of what can go wrong with a fatigued crew on a visual approach clearance:

On a flight into KBTL, we had briefed a visual approach to Runway 23R backed up with the ILS. Upon arrival to BTL, the tower cleared us to land Runway 23R. Once we were on the ground and taxiing off the runway, the tower cleared us "to parking" with him. It was at this point that I realized we had landed on Runway 23L. No indication of the error was given by the tower. We taxied into the ramp uneventful and shut down.

Both of us had a duty day over twelve hours with connecting airline flights and an hour-long car ride to reach the airplane, followed by a flight to BTL. Fatigue was without a doubt a factor.


6,000 Feet Short

As you might've noticed in the graphic above, Runway 23L is nearly 6,000 feet shorter than runway 23R. For most jets, 4,100 feet of runway distance is on the shortest end of what's acceptable for landing. Fortunately, the crew was flying an aircraft that was capable of stopping in that amount of distance. But the same situation with a larger aircraft could have easily resulted in overrunning the end of the runway.

Fatigue Risks

Flying while fatigued is equivalent in many cases to flying under the influence of alcohol.

Fortunately, new FAA regulations are a step in the right direction, giving airline pilots longer rest periods. However, the FAA's Part 121 rest rules don't apply to flights like this, which was flown under Part 91.

Markus Eigenheer

Landing On The Wrong Runway Happens More Often Than Anyone Would Like

The best thing you can do is study the airport diagram prior to your approach, and follow any available instrument approach guidance all the way to the ground.

Every pilot has felt a little unsure of their runway at some point in time. And, in this situation, neither pilot noticed the problem until after landing.


When In Doubt, Go-Around

Set up a procedure, and follow it every time.

And, if you're ever in doubt, or you discover you're lined up for the wrong runway, immediately go around.

Next, let tower know where you are. You're a collision hazard either way, but tower doesn't expect you to land. Going around provides the least risk of hitting something on the ground, or overrunning the end of a short runway.

Images Courtesy:

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