The two aircraft were forced to perform go-arounds after a Southwest Boeing 737 was seen taxiing across the runways on which they were due to land.

Alaska Airlines Airbus A321neo
Photo: Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying

Two aircraft aborted their landings at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) when a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 was seen taxiing across the runways on which they had been cleared to land. The incident, which took place on May 19th, is the latest in a series of near-misses at airports across the US.

Too close for comfort

At just after 9 am, Southwest Airlines flight 1179 had been granted clearance from ATC to cross runway 28L and line up on runway 28R, ready for its departure to San Diego (SAN).

United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9

Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

However, at the same time, United Airlines flight 277 was on approach to runway 28L at the end of its flight from Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). Flight tracking data from shows that when the Boeing 737 MAX 9 was at an altitude of just 225 ft, the landing was aborted, and the aircraft performed a go-around, climbing back up to around 800 ft.

Shortly after, with the Southwest Airlines aircraft now lined up for departure on runway 28R, Alaska Airlines flight 553, also from Washington Dulles, was on approach to the same runway. The Airbus A321neo had descended to about 550 ft when it aborted its landing and went on to performed a go-around.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8

Photo: Angel DiBilio | Shutterstock

One of the passengers on the United Airlines flight, Tom Walsh, described his experience onboard to the San Francisco Chronicle, saying,

“All of a sudden, he starts going nose up, a little too steep for your typical landing. And then he hits the thrusters, and we’re over the runway, and next thing I see is we’re banking left over the terminal and (Highway) 101.”

An apparent breakdown in communication

Analysts have described the event as a breakdown in communication between air traffic control (ATC) and the Southwest Airlines aircraft, and have called for further investigation into what happened. However, in a statement seen by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said,

“The FAA looked into the incident and determined the appropriate steps were taken to ensure a safe operation.”

United Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9

Photo: Lukas Souza | Simple Flying

This marks the latest in a series of near-miss incidents to take place in the skies over the US in recent months, which led to the FAA issuing a safety alert. Coincidentally, on Monday this week, the NOTAM Improvement Act was submitted, with the aim of modernizing how pilots receive critical flight information. The bill was put together by Representative Mark DeSaulnier, who went on to say,

“This latest alarming incident is yet another reminder that we need to stay vigilant when it comes to overseeing aviation safety, because mistakes can have devastating consequences – something we almost learned firsthand after the 2017 near-miss incident at SFO.”

The now-infamous 2017 incident referred to by DeSaulnier is that of the Air Canada aircraft that almost landed on a crowded taxiway, missing a number of passenger aircraft by just 14 ft before aborting its landing.

What do you think of this safety incident that took place at San Francisco International Airport last week? What solutions could be put in place to prevent such near-misses? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle,


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