An 'occurrence' that never should have occurred

Last Sunday afternoon, passengers on Cayman Airways flight 505 from Chicago had their tray tables up and their seats in the upright position as the 737-300 Boeing jetliner made its final approach for landing at Owen Roberts International Airport. Visitors were undoubtedly excited about their upcoming stay in our sunny isles, and residents were looking forward to returning home; none of them likely had an inkling about the “occurrence” that was about to unfold.

The word “occurrence” is not ours. It’s how the Cayman Islands Airports Authority described the event on Wednesday, three days after the “occurrence.”

Since the CIAA statement is so brief (only 79 words) and totally bereft of fact and substance, we’ll reprint it here in its entirety:

“CIAA has completed its investigation into an occurrence at Owen Roberts International Airport on Sunday, 22 March, involving two airlines. One of the airlines flight departure was briefly delayed and the other had to go around before being cleared for landing. As part of the formal investigation, a report was submitted by CIAA to the Civil Aviation Authority as is the norm for any such occurrence. This is not a frequent occurrence and at no time was safety compromised.”

Here’s what actually happened, as described by eyewitnesses: With a United Airlines flight on the runway preparing for takeoff, the arriving Cayman Airways flight approached, preparing to land on the same runway. It had already passed the Cayman Islands Hospital and was flying at low altitude.

The pilot of the Cayman Airways jet, by that time close enough to the runway to see the United Airlines plane in his landing space, aborted the landing, “gunned” his engines to quickly gain altitude and circled around toward Bodden Town before beginning a new approach. Meanwhile, the United pilot was instructed to abort his takeoff and exit the runway.

The Cayman Airways flight then completed its circle around and landed safely, which was followed by a safe takeoff by the United flight.

Cayman’s Airports Authority might maintain that safety wasn’t compromised, but it certainly can’t claim that things didn’t go awry.

The incident suggests there was an element of human error in one of three possible ways:
1) The air traffic controller erred with respect to his instructions to the Cayman Airways pilot.
2) The air traffic controller erred with respect to his instructions to the United Airlines pilot.
3) Or, one of the two pilots erred by not following proper instructions from the air traffic controller.

We don’t know which of those scenarios is correct, partially because the Airports Authority’s statement gives no clue, and Cayman Airways has elected not to comment on the record.

Having one jet filled with passengers on a runway when another jet, also filled with passengers, is on its final approach to the same runway is, we believe, not a trivial matter.

Behind the scenes, we assume (and hope) the Airports Authority is taking this “occurrence” far more seriously than its blasé statement might suggest. 

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  1. Nowadays you cant go the bathroom without a video or recording stating that you did.

    There can be no doubt here that a recording is readily available as to whether air traffic/ground control or the pilot had a brain fart. Check the tapes and solve the mystery.

  2. My thoughts are that when things of this nature take place they should be investigated to the fullest. Persons responsible for their complacency need to take responsibility for their actions.
    I always say when it comes to our airlines we put safety first, and I rate our pilots as among the best in the world.
    Congratulations to which ever pilots was in control of Cayman Airways on that day, You did an exceptional job and I am, as always proud of you. God bless Cayman Airways.

  3. As a former air traffic controller and retired airline pilot I beg to differ with your apparent consternation. An aircraft on final approach with another aircraft taking the active runway for departure is a daily, if not hourly, state of affairs at most airports.

    The departing aircraft crew should be ready for departure when accepting the departure clearance and entering the runway. However this is life, not automation, and there are rare times when something is discovered at the last moment, when the departure is no longer safe and there is a very brief delay while that condition is rectified before departure.

    "Go-Around" is an option all pilots are trained for, and indeed all airline pilots are trained to EXPECT the go-around on landing as their psychological mindset… reaction time is considerably shortened in the event it is required, and so the procedure – and flying – becomes that much safer.

    In my many years and many thousands of hours of flying experience I have performed that go-around routine a few times, and my response to such panicked questions is to ask whether the enquiring passengers would prefer the alternative of a "crash and burn" scenario? Not terribly Politically Crrect, but it gets my point across – life happens, and everybody cannot have 100% normal and boring 100% of the time.

    There have been so many "normal" landings and so few "missed approaches" and go-arounds that now passengers believe that they are somehow riding a bus and that – even in aviation – anything but routine is somehow unsafe. You may rest assured that the go-around routine is just one of the safe procedures in a pilot”s flight bag and, while it may not be 100% routine, it is very safe and not far from a "normal" state of affairs.

    I would say just be happy that your controllers and crew were professional, on the ball, and that they all made the correct decisions. As far as aircrew are concerned, this non-event was part of normal daily routine, perhaps requiring a written report to the Operations Manager, but not much more than that.

  4. At Lynch

    Thanks for the insight and im certain you are correct and as real as you may make it, it scares me.

    Owen Sound is a 1 runway operation and if those involved cant get that right, they shouldnt apply for a job at Chicago, OHare.

  5. I see a potential conflict of interest here, with the airport authority at ORA examining the conduct of the air traffic controllers at ORA, after all Cayman is a very small community and one wonders if this impacts on objectivity.

  6. We have to thank James Lynch for injecting a bit of sanity into what has become a complete non-story blown out of all proportion.

    Many years ago as a PPL student on my final flight test with the CFI I had to initiate a go-around when the Cessna 172 ahead of us failed to clear the runway. Even at that stage it was a reflex action – the runway”s blocked so you ain”t landing on it – the difference in that case was that the CFI then threw a simulated engine failure at me just to make it a bit more interesting. Bottom line is that if you fly you”re trained for all this almost from day one.

    Over the years since I”ve lost count of how my go-arounds I”ve experienced as a passenger, including one at ORIA where the aircraft that landed ahead of us failed to clear the runway in time. In that case the landed aircraft was still back-tracking towards us on the runway as we overshot towards North Sound but I don”t remember any fuss about that. As Mr Lynch says it”s a routine procedure.

  7. As a former airline pilot, please allow me to point out that the ”assumptions” setting out ”the elements of human error in 3 possible ways” could not have been more off the mark and more misleading. Go- arounds because an aircraft is on your landing runway are events are relatively common, pilots and controllers are trained for them and they occur every day as a matter of fact. I and I am sure every Cayman Airways pilot has had to do these more than once; pilots are trained for this and it is not difficult to do. While I have not ”investigated” this case, I am positive that the Cayman Airways pilots had the aircraft on the ground in sight for miles before he began his go around and he used his good judgment at the right time when it became apparent to him that the aircraft on the ground would not be able to leave the runway before he was able to land safely. This was not an event that should have been reported and the Compass would have done the right thing to have checked with someone who has intimate knowledge of such things; such check it appears did not happen. In my humble opinion, this was perhaps inadvertent but for sure improper and unnecessarily sensational reporting.

  8. This sounds like "An ”Editorial” that never should have occurred"

    Without more facts or evidence that somebody royally screwed up this just sounds like a minor hiccup and not something extraordinary.

    In other news, I had to brake pulling into a parking lot the other day because another car was already in the process of pulling out. I”m hoping for a full scale investigation and editorial to find out what happened, but I suspect the madness will continue unabated.

  9. While pilots might be trained to abort landings and such occurrences do occur at the busiest airports, let say Chicago, which handled 881,933 aircraft movements in 2014, or 2,416 per day or 100 flights per hour and has more than 1 runway, how this occurrence did happen at the airport with just one runway and few aircraft movements a day?
    Professional skepticism in audit is an attitude that includes a questioning mind and a critical assessment of audit evidence. The auditor should not assume that management is either honest nor dishonest.
    Compass, please continue to maintain such attitude.
    A cynical attitude (some comments) is an obstacle to learning, but blind acceptance is just as bad.

  10. Yes auditors do maintain professional skepticism and a questioning mind, but they also gather evidence to support their conclusions before accusing of wrong doing. Journalists are held to similar standards which the Compass is guilty of not following. They said they spoke to "eyewitnesses" but didn’t bother to mention if these were aviation expert eyewitnesses. Seems if they had consulted someone with knowledge they would have found out, while this wasn’t routine it certainly wasn’t front page newsworthy.

  11. The question remains: How did this happen at the airport with just ONE runway and just FEW aircraft movements A DAY? Do not downplay this occurrence and compare it to airports with aircraft movements of 100 per HOUR.

    Compass is rightfully questioning the cause of this occurrence and I would not call it a minor hiccup. They are not accusing anyone of wrong doing. There was an error,despite the fact that pilots are trained and always ready for it. There got to be an explanation.

    I also agree with len king”s comment: Owen Sound is a 1 runway operation and if those involved cant get that right, they shouldnt apply for a job at Chicago, OHare.

  12. Well if you want a more detailed account of what actually happened, the Cayman air traffic controllers association has a good write up on their facebook page. Turns out not such a big deal and mostly a mis-communication from the arriving aircraft about its incoming position. But go on and pretend its front page news so when potential visitors to the island read our local newspaper they”ll be too scared to fly here for what amounts to nothing.

  13. Thank God this "occurrence " is turning out to be nothing. But if there were to be an occurrence in the future we need to be ready with a "second runway". There is no space at ORIA. Why not just build a new proper airport to the East? Why do a renovation that will only waste time and money? Gov”t should build East because land is the cheapest. They could buy hundreds of acres for CI$15-20,000.
    At the same time build a cruise ship and cargo facility . We have holes in the ground in the East that will eventually be 50 feet deep. That is the proper depth for Cruise ships. Building in the East will also solve traffic congestion, therefore cutting costs of repairs and building new roads on the coastline.
    A new center of commerce will be achieved.