The Air Malta flight AMC144 incident was notified to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) at 2105 hrs on 20 October 1993 and an investigation began the next day. The AAIB team comprised Mr R StJ Whidborne (Investigator in Charge), Mr A W Skinner (Operations) and Mr T G Wild (Flight Recorders). Mr J Chappelow, Principal Psychologist of the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine advised the investigation on human factor aspects.
The Air Malta flight AMC144 incident occurred when a Boeing 737-2Y5A aircraft landed on Taxiway 2 at London Gatwick Airport after making a Surveillance Radar Approach (SRA) at night to land on Runway 26R. Taxiway 2 was unoccupied at the time.
At approximately 4 Nm from touchdown the flight crew of Air Malta flight AMC144 discussed and resolved their doubts concerning the identification of the runway so that thereafter they where both convinced that they were landing on the correct one.
The aircraft was subsequently taxied to the parking area where the passengers and crew disembarked via the normal channels. The report concludes that the incident occurred as a result of the following factors :
- Runway 26R was clearly visible throughout the approach but the pilots looked for and selected a pattern of lights to the right of it because they assumed erroneously that 26R was in fact 26L and they knew that the designated runway had to be to the right of this.
- The flight crew of Air Malta flight AMC144 had not briefed themselves on the lighting they were expecting to see on Runway 26R once the change of runway had been confirmed.
- The crews’ misinterpretation of the visual cues was facilitated by:
- The similarity between the night time view of Runways 26L and 26R with associated taxiways to the right which are marked with green centreline lighting.
- The use of Runway 26R sometimes as a runway with edge lighting and sometimes as a taxiway with centreline lighting.
- The green centreline lights of Taxiway 2 were set at a brilliance of 30% until the aircraft was about 2 miles from touchdown when they were reset to 10%. Whilst the lights were at the brighter intensity the chance of mistaking Taxiway 2 for the runway was considerably increased and the mistake was possible at an earlier stage in the approach.