Five U.S. aircraft landed at wrong airports since 2012: NTSB

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Five U.S. aircraft, including a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 and an Atlas Air Boeing 747 cargo plane, landed at the wrong airports in recent years due to preventable air traffic control errors, U.S. safety experts said on Monday.

While no injuries were reported in the incidents, which occurred from July 2012 to November 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended changes to U.S. air traffic control procedures to avoid future problems, which can involve aircraft landing on shorter-than-expected runways - sometimes at night.

The NTSB said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should require controllers to withhold landing clearance until an aircraft has passed all airports that could be confused with its destination.

It also recommended making changes to altitude warning software to ensure an aircraft does not descend toward the wrong airport.

The FAA said it takes landings at wrong airports “very seriously,” and will respond to the NTSB recommendations within 90 days.

The wrong landings cited by NTSB occurred in areas where multiple airports lie within 10 miles (16 km) of each other.

Southwest Airlines Flight 4013 took off from Chicago Midway International Airport on Jan. 12, 2014, for a 7,140-foot (2,176-meter) runway at Branson Airport, nearly Springfield, Missouri. But the aircraft, with 124 passengers and 7 crew members aboard, landed instead on a 3,738-foot runway six miles away, after being wrongly directed there by air traffic controllers.

“Visible tire marks” showed where the jet stopped on the runway, NTSB said.

In November 2013, Atlas Air Flight 4241 left New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. But the 747 cargo plane mistakenly landed at Colonel James Jabara Airport about five miles away, after the two-member flight crew failed to correctly identify their destination.

“Several other operations occurred at (the airport) while the 747 was on the runway, further negatively impacting flight safety,” NTSB said.

In that case, minimum safe altitude warning software that could have sounded an alarm as the plane descended instead assumed that the flight had changed destinations, NTSB said.

Three other wrong airport incidents occurred in 2012 and 2014, including a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster that landed on a 3,580-foot runway in Florida, four miles from its intended 11,420-foot runway destination.

Reporting by David Morgan, editing by G Crosse