In shocking news, three aircraft landed at Birmingham Airport, UK, while there was a ladder on the runway in September. Crews from all three planes reported a possible object on the runway after near-misses on landing. An investigation from the UK’s AAIB details how the ladder fell on the runway and why it remained there for so long.
According to the AAIB report, the issue started when an airport maintenance pickup truck was conducting routine work on Runway 33 in Birmingham Airport on 8th September 2020. While leaving the area, a seven-foot ladder in the back of the truck fell out in the runway touch down zone, just to the right of the centerline.
Soon after the truck left the area, three aircraft in quick succession landed on Runway 33. The first flight, an ASL Airlines 737-800 (registration EI-DPC), landed safely at 22:25 local time.
Two minutes later, the next aircraft, a Jet2 737-800 (G-GDFR), landed safely, and the crew reported that they saw an object on the runway but weren’t sure that it weren’t just paint marks. The first aircraft then reported similar findings.
Taking this into consideration, ATC contacted the third aircraft and informed it of the possible object and asked if it wanted to proceed with landing. The third aircraft (a TUI 757-200, registration: G-OOBA) opted to land and did so safely. While taxiing, the crew confirmed that there was an object on the runway, possibly a ladder.
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Upon confirmation from the third aircraft, ATC shut down the runway and ordered an inspection. The inspection found the seven-foot maintenance ladder during the search and no other foreign objects. The runway was opened after 19 minutes and a fourth plane landed safely a few minutes later.
The AAIB’s investigation report noted that the ladder’s position meant that the landing aircraft (at speeds of over 120 knots) were at a high risk of substantial damage. The investigation found that the ladder fell out because the bungee cord in the back of the pickup truck was not adequate.
The AAIB report set out several changes that the airport should make to prevent such an incident from occurring again. The changes included reviewing procedures around reports of FOD (foreign object debris), airfield vehicles, and training.
Since the incident in September, Birmingham Airport has already made several changes to its ATC and maintenance procedures. In a statement to the BBC, the airport said,
“The vast majority of these plans have now been actioned, which include the revision of procedures, issuing of specific control measures and practical assessments. We have also focussed on training and harmonisation of working practices, involving and engaging with employees across the operation to empower and embed the changes.”
Runway safety is critical for aircraft movement, especially at higher speeds. Any FOD can pose risks to different parts of the aircraft, endangering dozens. This explains why airports actively conduct runway inspections to ensure nothing errant has managed to find its way onto the runway.