On 26 July 2014, the crew of a QantasLink Boeing 717 aircraft, registered VH-NXL (NXL), conducted a scheduled passenger flight from Karratha to Perth, Western Australia, where runways 21 and 24 were in use. At about 1200, the first officer of NXL contacted the aerodrome controller (ADC) who acknowledged the call. At about 1201, an airport safety officer contacted the ADC and advised that their vehicle was holding short of runway 24 for a runway inspection. The ADC cleared the vehicle to enter runway 24 and hold short of runway 21, then indicated on the console runway strip that runway 24 was occupied.
At that time, NXL was on final approach about 7.5 NM from runway 24 and the flight crew did not hear the vehicle being cleared onto the runway. The safety officer drove along the centreline of runway 24 towards the intersection with runway 21.
At about 1203, the ADC cleared an aircraft for take-off from runway 21. After observing that aircraft pass through the intersection of runway 24, the ADC picked up the flight progress strip for NXL, scanned the runway but did not see the vehicle on it, and moved the strip into the console runway bay. The ADC then cleared NXL to land on runway 24. At that time, NXL was on final at about 1,000 ft and 1.5 NM from the runway threshold. The safety vehicle was on runway 24 heading south-west. The safety officer heard NXL being cleared to land but not the assigned runway.
As NXL touched down on runway 24, the first officer saw the flashing lights of a vehicle ahead on the runway, immediately stated ‘go-around, car on the runway’ and the captain commenced a go-around. The safety vehicle was then stationary on the centreline of runway 24 about 1180 m from the threshold and facing away from the approaching aircraft. The safety officer did not see the aircraft until it passed about 150 ft over the safety vehicle.
With experience comes the ability to fuse conscious control with largely automated actions. The penalty for this can be absent-mindedness or a lack of attention to a specific task.