JAL Pilots Botched Orders at U.S. Airport after ‘Misreading’ Map; May Have Tried to Turn Past Non-existent Landmark

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japan Airlines pilots misread a map at San Diego Airport in February, which caused them to cross the stop line in front of a runway, sources close to the matter said.

On Feb. 6, JAL Flight 65 was taxiing for its trip to Narita Airport when it crossed the stop line without permission, forcing another plane to abort its landing.

According to the sources, the pilots misread the layout of the runway and taxiways, passed the point where they should have turned right onto the taxiway, and proceeded toward the runway instead.

At the San Diego Airport, Taxiway B is contiguous with the apron, just north of the terminal building. The runway is parallel to the taxiway, but slightly further north. A row of islands on the tarmac divides the runway from the taxiway, but there are no islands to divide the taxiway from the apron. The taxiway and runway are connected by the spaces between the islands. Theses spaces have their own names, including Taxiway B8 and Taxiway B10.

After the JAL plane left the terminal, it was told by air traffic control to move along Taxiway B and wait at Taxiway B8. The pilots read back these instructions, before mistakenly entering Taxiway B10 and crossed the stop line there.

The plane came to a stop just before the runway — which the pilots had mistaken for the taxiway — around the same time a controller pointed out the error. An incoming plane approaching the runway was just about to land at the same time, but it was forced to make a “go-around” instead.

The Flight 65 pilots mistakenly believed that there was an island in front of Taxiway B, based on a simplified map, according to the sources. This mistaken idea kept them from realizing that they had crossed the taxiway and were approaching the runway.

Using the island to orient themselves, the pilots had crossed Taxiway B, where the plane was supposed to turn right, and entered Taxiway B10 — which it was not told to do — before crossing the stop line.

Three pilots were aboard the flight, but all three failed to see the stop line and the B10 sign, partly because of rain.

JAL added a note to the map and other materials pilots use at the airport that reads, “There is no island [in front of Taxiway B].” Aiming to prevent errors on the ground, it will soon revise its internal rules and documents such as to provide more case studies for pilots’ training.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry conducted an unannounced on-site inspection on Feb. 13 based on the Civil Aeronautics Law.