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This is how an airplane ended up at the wrong airport

Reuters/Edgar Su
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Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Getting off at the wrong exit on the highway is one thing. Landing at the wrong airport is another. In both cases, human error is usually to blame.

Such was the case when an AirAsia plane that took off from Sydney ended up landing in Melbourne instead of its scheduled destination of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, according to an investigation (pdf) by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released today (Sept. 7).

The captain of the Airbus A330 on March 10, 2015, “inadvertently” entered in the wrong coordinates for the aircraft, putting it on a course for an area off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. “This adversely affected the onboard navigation systems however, despite a number of opportunities to identify and correct the error, it was not noticed until after the aircraft became airborne and started tracking in the wrong direction,” said the report.

The plane lacked a system that would override or recognize the error, according to the report.

The captain tried to return to Sydney airport but poor weather prevented the plane from landing there and they ended up landing in Melbourne instead, 850 kilometers away.

“This occurrence highlights that even experienced flight crew are not immune from data entry errors,” said the government agency. “However, carrying out procedures and incorporating equipment upgrades recommended by aircraft manufacturers will assist in preventing or detecting such errors.

The incident was a  case of how an attempt to make life easier by computerizing a key process of air travel backfired. Plenty of other airlines and thousands of passengers have had a taste of that recently.

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