Nov. 15--An Asia-bound cargo jet was reported taking off from a taxiway instead of its assigned runway at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport earlier this month, prompting an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The incident, if confirmed, would mark the second time in four years that a large commercial aircraft launched from a taxiway instead of turning northwest up the runway that ends near Point Woronzof, as directed by air traffic controllers.
On Nov. 5, a MD-11 freight jet operated by Taiwan-based EVA Air was cleared to fly from runway 32, which extends more than two miles from the airport terminal area toward Knik Arm, said Scott Erickson, a safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board in Anchorage.
The jet had originally been moving toward a different runway, but the air traffic control tower notified the EVA Air crew that runway 32 was available and gave permission to take off there, Erickson said. The NTSB was notified that the jet turned in the correct direction, but went up the taxiway that runs parallel to the runway on its west side, Erickson said.
Runways are the broad concrete expanses where aircraft take off and land. Taxiways are the narrower access roads used by jets and planes to reach the runways for takeoff, or move to the terminal after landing.
No other aircraft was on the taxiway at the time, and the EVA Air jet apparently flew to Taipei as planned, Erickson said. This particular taxiway, designated "Y," is almost as long as the runway, according to an airport diagram.
"Any time you have an aircraft that doesn't follow the directions of the (air traffic) controller, it kind of puts a safety deficit in the system," Erickson said. "The FAA is looking into it."
FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer confirmed an investigation was under way but would not comment further. Messages left with EVA Air in Anchorage and other offices were not returned Monday.
In January 2002, a China Airlines jet carrying about 250 passengers and crew was directed to take off from runway 32, toward Point Woronzof. Instead, the jet accelerated west on another taxiway, this one only about half as long as the runway.
It barely cleared the ground: its landing gear scratched twin grooves in the snow berm as the jet became airborne. Taiwanese air safety authorities later suspended the pilot for eight months and the first officer for seven months.
The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has experienced similar mishaps, the Seattle Times reported Sunday. At least eight times since 1999, aircraft have mistaken a certain taxiway for a runway. Three aircraft actually landed, the Times said, while five changed their flight paths at the last minute.