2:59pm

Fri March 15, 2013
The Two-Way

Runway Scare: Driverless Van Crosses Path Of Passenger Jet At Toronto Airport

Canadian officials are investigating an incident in which a driverless van traveled across the runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, at the same time an Air Canada flight was landing late Monday night. After the plane's pilots reportedly ignored commands to pull up, the jet "narrowly missed" the van, investigators say.

From the CBC:

"An initial Transport Canada incident report posted online Tuesday said that Air Canada Flight 178, an Embraer 190 jet, was finishing its flight at 11:39 p.m. ET when ground radar detected an object on the runway.... The object on the runway turned out to be an unoccupied Sunwing Airlines cargo van with keys in the ignition, in gear, with its lights and orange airport beacon on. The Air Canada crew said they never saw the van."

The medium-range airliner had traveled from Edmonton. The number of passengers aboard isn't known, but the Embraer 190 can hold nearly 100 people. Its pilots have reportedly said they thought the control tower's instructions to pull up were meant for another craft.

According to Global Toronto, the plane "was able to touch down without incident. The van continued across a taxiway and into a grassy area, where it was stopped by airport officials."

The van had apparently been left in gear by an airline worker. Before it headed across an active runway, it struck the engine of a Boeing 737 the worker had been attending to, Global Toronto reports.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigator Ewan Tasker tells the CBC that the near-collision makes the incident "highly unusual" — and he says his agency considers the near-collision "quite serious."

The incident occurred despite the TSB's recent efforts to publicize the dangers of incursions on Canada's runways, and its proposal of a "direct-to-pilot" warning system.

"From 2001 to 2009, there were over 4,100 of these incursions in Canada," TSB official Leo Donati said in a video the agency released in November. He said there were 351 such events in 2010, and 446 in 2011.

Back in 1978, a Canadian passenger jet's attempt to avoid a snowplow on a runway at the Cranbrook Airport in British Columbia led to a crash that left the plane, a Boeing 737, shattered and in flames. More than 40 people died in that incident.

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