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February 26, 2024

The skies over US airports have been plagued by a terrifying phenomenon – pilots mistakenly landing on a taxiway instead of a runway. These potentially fatal errors have led to 1,641 “false ground incidents” since 2016, a staggering 83 percent of which were caused by small aircraft.

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The skies over US airports have been plagued by a terrifying phenomenon – pilots mistakenly landing on a taxiway instead of a runway. (Kurt Knudsen)

But there’s a silver lining in this chaos — a new technology called ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction (ATAP) is being rolled out across the country to prevent these horrific accidents.

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ATAP uses advanced radar and sensor technology to automatically detect when an aircraft is preparing to land on a taxiway rather than a runway. The software alerts air traffic controllers, who can quickly relay the information to pilots in the air and on the ground.

ATAP uses advanced radar and sensor technology to automatically detect when an aircraft is preparing to land on a taxiway rather than a runway.

ATAP uses advanced radar and sensor technology to automatically detect when an aircraft is preparing to land on a taxiway rather than a runway. (Kurt Knudsen)

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Since its implementation in 2018, this breakthrough technology has prevented 50 false surface taxiway landings at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport alone. But the consequences of failing to implement ATAP can be disastrous. Unexpected landings on taxiways have resulted in near-collisions between aircraft, putting countless lives at risk.

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Some of the busiest airports in the United States have seen some extraordinary near misses, including a Boeing 757 landing at Newark Liberty International Airport, a Delta 767 landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2009, and an Alaska Airlines landing in 2015. The 737 landed on the taxiway Seattle-Tacoma.

Some of the busiest airports in the United States have seen some extraordinary near misses, including a Boeing 757 landing at Newark Liberty International Airport, a Delta 767 landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2009, and an Alaska Airlines landing in 2015. The 737 landed on the taxiway Seattle-Tacoma. (Kurt Knudsen)

Some of the busiest airports in the United States have seen some extraordinary near misses, including a Boeing 757 landing at Newark Liberty International Airport, a Delta 767 landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in 2009, and an Alaska Airlines landing in 2015. The 737 landed on the taxiway Seattle-Tacoma.

The most disturbing near miss came in 2017, when an Air Canada Airbus 320 nearly went off-course on the taxiway at San Francisco International Airport for a landing while four planes were lining up for takeoff.

Even experienced pilots confuse taxiways with runways, and as air travel increases, the risk of these deadly mistakes will only continue to increase.

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With eight ATAP alerts already issued this year, the importance of this technology cannot be overstated.

With eight ATAP alerts already issued this year, the importance of this technology cannot be overstated. (Kurt Knudsen)

With eight ATAP alerts already issued this year, the importance of this technology cannot be overstated. Despite pandemic-related disruptions, ATAP’s accelerated rollout demonstrates the urgency with which airports across the country are adopting this lifesaving software.

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Once the ATAP siren sounded inside the air traffic control tower, controllers swung into action, telling approaching aircraft to abort the dangerous landing. In a world where even the likes of Harrison Ford have narrowly avoided tragedy by landing unexpectedly on a taxiway, the implementation of ATAP is an important step in ensuring the safety of all those who take to the skies.

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