Ethiopian Cargo Boeing 737 Accidentally Lands At Wrong Airport In Zambia

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It isn’t often a plane heads to or lands at the wrong airport. But on Sunday, April 4, Ethiopian Airlines won the daily double. Two Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800s both headed to the same under construction airport in Africa. One of the Boeings, a cargo plane, landed. The other, a passenger flight, came within 50 feet of doing so.

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Two Ethiopian Airlines 737-800, included a cargo plane, went to the wrong airport on the weekend. Photo: GECAS Newsroom

Ethiopian Airlines freighter lands at the wrong airport in Ndola

According to a report in One Mile At A Time, the first Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 was operating a cargo flight. It landed at the wrong airport in Ndola, Zambia, on Sunday. The aircraft in question was ET-AYL.

According to flight tracking site, FlightRadar24.com, that plane operated a flight from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa to the previously named ‘Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Airport’ in Ndola, which has recently been renamed ‘Ndola International’. Instead, the Boeing 737-800 landed at the yet-to-be-finished Copperbelt International Airport, which has recently been renamed Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe.

If you’re confused by the two Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe airports, then no doubt this didn’t help the Ethiopian Airlines pilots who clearly weren’t sure where they were going. Flight tracking suggests the aircraft was on course for a direct approach into Ndola International, located on the eastern side of Ndola. But around 60 kilometers north of Ndola, the plane veered off in a south-westerly direction, making a beeline for the partly constructed new airport located on the other side of Ndola.

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The first Boeing 737-800 veered off in a south-westerly direction, heading to the wrong airport. Source: FlightRadar24.com

Simple Flying has reached out to Ethiopian Airlines to clarify the incident. The airline has not responded before publication. Video shared online shows confused construction workers looking on as the 737 taxied across the unfinished airport.

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One Mile At A Time also reports a second Ethiopian Airlines Boeing nearly repeated the error soon after the first. In this case, the pilots realized the error before landing and conducted a go-around before heading to the right airport.

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The second Boeing conducted a go-around before heading to the right airport. Source: FlightRadar24.com

As the image of Ndola and its surroundings shows, both airports have similarly orientated runways. Ndola’s operational airport, Ndola International, can be seen just underneath the suburb of Itawa. Across town, to the left of Chisawokona, is the far-larger and as yet unfinished Copperbelt International Airport, now named Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe.

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Source: Google Earth

Second Boeing came with 50 feet of landing

While the first flight was a cargo flight, the second flight that came close to touching down at the wrong airport was a passenger flight. ET871 was another 737-800 operating a scheduled service between Addis Ababa and Ndola on the same day. According to social media reports, pilots in the area were aware the second Boeing came within 50 feet of the ground before realizing the error and aborting.

“We tried to warn them that they were approaching the wrong runway but couldn’t get a call in,” one pilot said.
“I’m not sure what made them go around so late – I noticed very faint X’s at the runway ends. Maybe they saw that?”
After holding overhead for a bit, the pilots of the second passenger plane then headed to the correct airport.

The two incidents will be a blow to Ethiopian Airlines, arguably the best-regarded airline in Africa. Over the past decade, the airline has doubled in size, and before the global travel downturn was selling nearly 27 million seats a year. The airline survived the calamity of the 737 MAX crash in March 2019.

Just two weeks ago, Ethiopian Airlines was celebrating the arrival of a new cargo plane. Ethiopian’s CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, touted the plane as a game-changer, helping the airline transport medical supplies and vaccines around the region. Ironically, that’s the same plane that landed at the wrong airport on Sunday. The plane is sure helping shine the spotlight on Ethiopian Airlines, just not the kind of spotlight Tewolde GebreMariam had in mind.

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What do you think is going on here? Why did two Ethiopian Airlines’ planes on the same day both head to the same wrong airport? Post a comment and let us know.

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