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Analysis

Summary

It is likely that the pilot was under some self-imposed stress due to the need to ensure that the passengers connected with their next flight. The level of stress probably increased as he attempted to prepare for the arrival and landing at Sydney. Consequently, when he saw what he believed to be the parallel runways he readily accepted that the taxiway was runway 16R despite the significant lateral distances between the parallel runways and also between their respective thresholds.

Confirmation bias occurs when people search for information to confirm what they suspect. People rarely attempt to prove themselves wrong and often disregard information that may contradict their perception of a situation. Despite the pilot referring to an aerodrome diagram, and the lack of runway markings on the selected `runway', he did not comprehend that he was approaching taxiway Alpha instead of runway 16R. It is possible that the pilot's perception, that he had correctly identified runway 16R, was reinforced by the change in contrast of the taxiway surface near the northern end of taxiway Alpha. He may also have been lulled into thinking that the approach was normal, despite the minimal markings on the selected landing area, because of his past experience with runways with little or no markings.

Following the go around, there was an opportunity for the error to be recognised if the pilot had advised the aerodrome controller that an aircraft entered the runway during his approach. Such a comment probably would have caused the controller to query the pilot regarding the runway he had approached. However, during the subsequent go around the pilot had little time to query the aerodrome controller before changing frequency. While being resequenced for the second approach, there was an opportunity for the pilot to query the departure or director controller about the potential hazard he had just experienced. It would have been prudent of the pilot to highlight the situation to at least one of the controllers. The integrity of the aviation system is contingent upon all those involved advising concerns or clarifying situations to maintain safety.

Without an ILS the pilot had limited means, other than ATC, to assist him to confirm that he had positioned the aircraft on the extended centerline for runway 16R.

While the director controller was required to obtain a report from the pilot of having the runway in sight, the provision of that report would not necessarily have prevented the occurrence. The lateral proximity of runway 16R and taxiway Alpha meant that even if the pilot had reported the runway in sight he might still have mistaken taxiway Alpha for the runway. Also, the proximity of the runway and taxiway made it unlikely that the aerodrome controller could differentiate, using radar or visual means, between an aircraft approaching the taxiway or the runway.

During the second approach, the pilot had no external cues to question his mis-identification of the runway on the initial approach, and thus positioned the aircraft for a landing on taxiway Alpha. Although he was advised that he was following an aircraft for the same runway, it is apparent that this advice was not sufficient for him to review the situation. It is likely that his focus did not extend beyond flying the final approach and preparing for the landing.

The occurrence highlights the need for adequate pre-flight preparation and for pilots to utilise available resources. Had the pilot had more time, it is likely that he would have been better prepared for the approach and landing to an unfamiliar aerodrome. Additional time may also have provided an opportunity for the pilot to consider other resources that were available. In this respect, he may have considered advising the controllers that it was his first time into Sydney, or immediately notified them of the perceived runway infringement. Either action would probably have provided additional information to assist in his subsequent decision making while operating in what was essentially (for the pilot) a foreign environment.

 
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