FedEx Boeing 777 Forced To Avoid Terrain Following Wrong Turn

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**Update: 06/04/20 @ 09:00 UTC – Statement received from Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department and included in the article below**

On April 1st, a FedEx Boeing 777-200 freighter was reported to have made a wrong turn when departing out of Hong Kong International Airport. Given the fact that airspace around airports is tightly controlled, and being in the wrong place can lead to disastrous consequences, this is no small error.

The incident involves a FedEx Boeing 777-200 freighter. Photo: Getty Images

Flight details

The cargo flight operated by FedEx used a Boeing 777-200 with registration N884FD. The aircraft was performing flight FX14 from Hong Kong to Taipei on April 1st when the incident occurred.

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It began on the afternoon of April 1st as the flight departed from Hong Kong’s runway 07R. According to The Aviation Herald, the flight crew was assigned to follow the Ocean 2A standard instrument departure (SID) route. Looking up the details of SID route Ocean 2A, it is very clear that it involves a right turn after take-off.

Standard instrument departure procedures set by civil aviation authorities. Photo: Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department

However, a right turn after take-off is not what took place. Instead, the aircraft made a 45 degree left turn, crossing the departure path of runway 07L. At this point, departure control intervened, instructing the aircraft to expedite climbing through 4,300 feet due to mountainous terrain in the area. It was then instructed to turn right onto a heading of 120.

Air traffic control questioned the crew on whether they were following the Ocean 2A departure. The crew affirmed that was what they were doing. However, when subsequently asked about the reason for the left turn, the crew replied “incorrect switch”.

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This was the end to the incident and the aircraft then continued on for a safe landing in Taipei about 70 minutes later, just before 18:00 local time.

The left turn of FX14 on April 1st can be seen clearly with its flight path. Photo: FlightRadar24.com
The aircraft subsequently arrived in Taiwan for a safe landing. Photo: FlightRadar24.com

A statement subsequently received from FedEx reads:

“FedEx Express Flight 14 from Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan SAR, landed safely on Wednesday, April 1, after experiencing an issue en route.  Both pilots have filed reports, and the matter is under investigation.”

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A statement subsequently received from the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department reads:

“The CAD has serious concern of the occurrence and has asked the operator to provide a report in accordance with established procedures. The CAD has also informed the State of Registry of the aircraft (i.e. FAA) for necessary follow up. The CAD will continue to closely follow up the occurrence with the company concerned.”

Human error?

It’s difficult to decipher what the crew could have meant by “incorrect switch”. However, it seems in all likelihood that this was a case of human error – one that could have been costly given the circumstances.

Firstly, with the aircraft taking off from runway 07R, it crossed over the departure path of runway 07L. If another aircraft was to depart around the same time, this could have resulted in a near collision.

Secondly, the terrain around Hong Kong’s airport is mountainous, rising steeply out of the water. Many pilots will reminisce about Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport and the “hair-raising” approach that was required. This is indicative of the mountainous terrain that is common in the area.

hong-kong-passenger-numbers-decline
The Hong Kong area is dominated by mountainous terrain. Photo: Cathay Pacific.

Conclusion

There was no mention of any investigation into the incident. However, given the serious consequences of such an action, it seems like a logical next step that should take place. It’s possible that the global situation and reduced air traffic, avoided a potentially disastrous mistake, as there are fewer aircraft departing and landing at Hong Kong these days.

Do you think there could be any other explanation beyond human error for this incident? Let us know in the comments.

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