Sorry, Wrong Airport

A 747 lands at the wrong Kansas airport. Patrick explains how such a thing might happen.

November 21, 2013


I’ve probably written a thousand articles in the past ten years or so. Not all of them have been the shiniest examples of eloquence and journalistic integrity, but I seldom submit an outright bomb. My Daily Beast story of November 21st, however, was an unpardonable failure. And no, the irony isn’t lost on me: as somebody who relishes in pointing out the foibles of the mainstream media’s aviation coverage, I’m especially embarrassed. Syntax and structure are important enough to me, but I failed in the one area I am most obliged not to fail in: technical accuracy.

The story in question was the one about the Boeing 747 that landed at the wrong Kansas airport. Within I made two egregious errors. The first error was in stating that the 747 pilots were flying a visual approach into McConnell Air Force Base when they apparently became confused. In fact they were flying the RNAV approach to runway 19L. An RNAV approach is a form of non-precision approach — a type of procedure that I describe elsewhere in the story.

The second and more serious error was in stating that the 747 was “not a commercial airline flight.” I wrote that it was flown by a “noncommercial” crew of “in-house” Boeing pilots. Actually, the flight was operated on Boeing’s behalf by Atlas Air, a New York-based carrier that flies 747 freighters around the globe. Atlas Air is very much an airline; its crews are very much commercial airline pilots, and this was very much a commercial airline flight. I am familiar with Atlas Air, and I’ve seen the 747 Dreamlifter parked at Atlas’s facilities at JFK on several occasions. I know that Atlas operates that 747 for Boeing. Yet I still managed to mess it up.

I also should have mentioned that although McConnell Air Force Base is a much larger facility than James Jabara Airport — the latter is where the plane actually landed — their runway alignments are similar in such a way that may have contributed to the crew’s confusion.

For what it matters, I was typing furiously on a last-second deadline, per the Daily Beast‘s request, at the end of what had already been a very busy day. That’s not an excuse, but that’s how it happened: I was in a rush, and neglected to review or fact-check my own work. My mistakes and omissions don’t really change the end result or the points I was intending to make, but that’s not the issue. I hope you’ll accept my apology.



Photo composite by the author.

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11 Responses to “Sorry, Wrong Airport”
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  1. Ramapriya says:

    Well, here’s another one from 48 hours ago… Southwest Airlines flight Branson Missouri town. Quite lucky that despite being a night landing, there wasn’t anything on the rwy at the time.

    An Ethiopian 767 recently landed at the wrong airport too, just south of Kilimanjaro. Season for wrong landings, evidently ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thomas says:

    If a mistake is to be made, better an innocuous one like this, rather than flying an incorrect airspeed on Final, or failing to set Flaps on takeoff.

  3. Ramapriya says:

    You mention in the Daily Beast article, “Prior to departure, flight attendants often make a public address announcement asking that passengers make certain they are on the correct plane bound for the correct city”.

    I must say that in my 500 or so flights till date (albeit in a very different part of the world), I’ve *never* heard any stewardess ask us to make certain that I was on the correct plane! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. MWnyc says:

    Patrick, thanks for that detailed and gracious apology.

    I understand how it can happen – but for one thing: The Daily Beast has editors, doesn’t it? They’re supposed to do some fact-checking as well. Are the people you work with at The Beast showing any embarrassment about not having fact-checked? Or are they happy to leave all the shame and all the apologies to you?

  5. Roger Wolff says:


    you write: “Most of the time, jetliners land using what we call an ILS,or instrument landing system…”

    where I seem to remember that you often state that ILS landings are very uncommon, and that most pilots have to do them every now and then to stay current….

    • Patrick says:

      No, you’re thinking of autoland. ILS is a pattern/procedure that we track to the runway. It’s a pathway, in other words, that we follow either manually or using the automation. ILS approaches are very common. It’s rare to find a commercial runway that is not equipped with one. Even smaller noncommercial airports tend to have them, and many (most) private planes are equipped for ILS.

      The vast majority of ILS approaches are flown using a combination of automation and manual control.

  6. Ian says:

    Hey guy. Shit happens. So what.

  7. Vinny Noggin says:

    Kansas. Total portal if there ever was one. For the unsuspecting. Name that Dreamlifter “Dorothy.”

  8. Simon says:

    Your apologies are certainly accepted. I didn’t find this such a big deal in the first place anyway.

    What I do wonder about is why you post your piece elsewhere and only leave the apology for this site. I bookmarked this site because I hoped to read your new articles every once in a while. If I now know your new stuff is published elsewhere, can I delete this bookmark?

  9. Rod Miller says:

    Totally agree with Sundog.
    As for the incident itself, unless it turns out that the crew was in some way glaringly negligent, I say “there but for the grace of God …”.

  10. Sundog says:

    Herein lies a significant difference between your aviation coverage and the mainstream mediaโ€™s aviation coverage. I’m not seeing any apologies from them.