A Virgin Australia ATR72 was involved in an incident at Canberra Airport (CBR), Australia, on Wednesday, September 25, 2019, when it lined up for the incorrect runway. Canberra ATC halted the aircraft and instructed the ATR72 to proceed to the correct runway. The flight continued without incident.
According to a report in the Aviation Herald, the ATR72, operated by Virgin Australia subsidiary Virgin Australia Regional Airlines, was operating VA669 between Canberra and Sydney. The ATR72 involved is registered as VH-VPJ.
VA669 is a scheduled passenger service that is timetabled to depart Canberra at 19:05 and arrive in Sydney at 20:05. It is 124 nautical miles between the two airports. Virgin Australia’s ATR72s carry 68 passengers.
What the ATSB has to say
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) records the incident as occurring at 19:03. When contacted by Simple Flying, the ATSB referred us to their initial public statement and preliminary finding.
According to the ATSB’s preliminary investigation findings, the pilots were cleared to proceed to hold point Golf pending a departure from runway 35, having cleared the ATR72 for takeoff.
At intersection Golf, the aircraft turned onto runway 30 rather than runway 35. Once on runway 30, the pilots reportedly realized there was an issue and Canberra ATC stopped the plane.
The pilots were then directed to taxi to the November holding point pending departure from the correct runway.
At this stage, the ATSB is collecting evidence in an active investigation. The incident is classified as a runway incursion with the occurrence category of incident.
The Golf point where the incident occurred is at the intersection of both runways. This intersection is located about ⅓ of the way up from the southernmost point of the main north-south runway. This runway is 3,283 meters in length. VA669 was to take off to the north before peeling off onto a north-easterly setting towards Sydney.
It appears the pilots turned the plane right onto runway 30, pointing in a westerly direction. Runway 30 is a shorter runway at 1,679 meters. The intersection is located approximately at the ⅓ of the way up from the most easterly point of runway 30.
Runway 30 is used by general aviation. It can also be used by commercial flights when weather renders runway 35 unsuitable.
When the error was realized, the ATR72 was directed down to the November holding point at the southern end of runway 35.
The flight continued without incident
As noted, the flight proceeded to Sydney without incident. The ATSB states that as part of their investigation they will be interviewing the pilots and gathering information from the flight data recordings and air traffic control recordings.
There has been a number of incidents this year involving the turboprop commercial aircraft that primarily serve the busy Canberra – Sydney route. None were serious and none resulted in injury to passengers or crew. But it adds up to a steady stream of events. Perhaps just a run of bad luck and bad publicity for Canberra Airport.