A King Air aircraft with a pilot and six passengers on board touched down on the grass strip to the left of the runway at Lord Howe Island after conducting an approach and landing during a heavy rain shower, an ATSB investigation report details.
The aircraft, being operated by Eastern Air Link, was conducting a scheduled passenger flight from Port Macquarie to Lord Howe Island on the morning of 18 February 2022. Approaching Lord Howe at about 0800, the pilot commenced a DME (distance measuring equipment) instrument arrival procedure conducted under instrument flight rules.
Early in the DME approach the pilot established visual meteorological conditions and transitioned to a visual approach. The pilot then descended the aircraft visually below cloud while over the water to an altitude below 1,000 ft, while also positioning for a straight-in approach to runway 10. During the approach, the aircraft entered an area of reduced visibility in rain and then touched down to the left of the runway.
“At the time of the aircraft's final approach and landing, the Lord Howe Island aerodrome was experiencing a heavy rain shower with limited visibility, conditions that were marginal for visual flight,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell.
“While the pilot commenced a visual approach to the runway with the required visual cues, it was highly unlikely that the required visual contact with the runway was retained throughout the approach.”
The ATSB investigation found that, with the loss of visual cues, the pilot did not commence a go around, which was contrary to the missed approach requirements, and instead continued towards the runway. This resulted in an increasing displacement from the runway centreline.
“Late in the approach with the aircraft close to the runway but with a significant displacement from the runway centreline, visual contact with the runway was reacquired,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Considerable manoeuvring with significant heading changes were required to realign the aircraft with the runway, resulting in an unstable approach, and, ultimately, the aircraft touching down off and to the left of the runway, on the runway strip.”
The pilot was aware that the aircraft had touched down to the side of the runway, but at the time thought that only the left main tyre was displaced at or around the edge of the runway. They elected to therefore continue the landing, manoeuvring the aircraft onto the runway and completing the landing roll without further incident.
A postflight inspection of the aircraft did not identify any damage, however an inspection of the runway by the aerodrome operator identified ground marks from an aircraft’s tyres along the left section of the runway strip, and a broken runway edge light on the left side of the runway, about 1,000 ft (300 m) from the runway threshold.
The ground markings indicated that the aircraft had touched down on the runway strip, with the closest main landing gear to the sealed runway surface about 2 m from the edge, and that the aircraft had quickly regained the runway shortly after touchdown.
In addition, the investigation also identified several flights conducted by the operator that followed a similar approach profile as that used by the occurrence flight, which were also conducted in marginal weather conditions for visual approach operations.
This practice significantly increased the risk of reduced obstacle clearance assurance for both an approach and a potential missed approach.
“Adherence to operational procedures ensures consistency of pilot action and aircraft operation during the approach and landing phases of flight. This, along with careful monitoring of aircraft and approach parameters, ensures approaches are conducted safely,” Mr Mitchell said.
The ATSB has issued a safety recommendation to the operator that it provides guidance and training to flight crew concerning the safest option in the selection of an approach method when weather conditions are marginal for the conduct of a visual approach.
“Operators should encourage the use of the most appropriate and safe approach available,” Mr Mitchell said.
“When conditions are marginal, the use of an instrument approach that provides obstacle clearance assurance minimises the risks resultant from any unforeseen deterioration in conditions,” he continued.
“These approach types provide a protected flight path for any missed approach and have been shown to be significantly safer than a visual approach when weather conditions are marginal."