United Express Flight Mistakenly Lands at Wrong Airport

A Silver Airways flight operating under the United Express program landed on time on Tuesday night. The problem? It landed at the wrong airport.

Passengers who boarded Silver Airways Flight 4049 thinking they were headed for the North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport were in for a surprise when pilots announced they had landed at the Fairmont Municipal Airport instead. The unexpected landing—which Silver Airways is euphemistically referring to as a “diversion”—wasn’t because of a sick passenger or a mechanical issue, but because of a “mistake” on the part of the cockpit crew.

Although Fairmont Municipal Airport is located just five miles from Bridgeport, it’s tiny size made for a sticky situation. Fairmont’s runway is less than 3,200 feet long and 75 feet wide, whereas the wingspan on Silver Airways’ Saab 340 is 70 feet wide on its own. Thankfully, officials have said that none of the flight’s 11 passengers and three crew members were injured in the landing.

FlyerTalk member chiph says it’s easier for pilots to make these types of errors than most people realize. “Due to magnetic pole drift, the compass headings doesn’t actually line up that accurately. Runways are renumbered occasionally to try and make it line up, but rarely. Additionally, on landings, your nose isn’t aligned with the runway during the approach due to crosswinds … Obviously, mistakes were made, but it’s a lot more complicated than you may believe.”

Still, not everyone is in agreement with chiph, and some FlyerTalk members don’t think the pilot of Silver Airways Flight 4049 should get off quite so easy. “First runway headings and alignment have to be within 3 deg magnetic or they’re redone by the FAA I believe. Secondly, twenty degrees between heading and runway alignment is HUGE, and a big red flag on a visual approach,” says FlyerTalk member aluminumdriver. “Landing at the wrong airport with today’s glass cockpits and overlays seems almost impossible for experienced pilots. Just another head scratching moment for me.”

Where do you come down in the debate?

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