I'm interested in how decisions and mistakes are made in the cockpit.
According to a brief news report about a recent landing at the wrong airport (see also the Aviation Herald report):
Landings at wrong airports by commercial pilots, while unusual, are still more common than many passengers may realize or airlines would like to acknowledge.
An Associated Press search two years ago of government safety data and news reports since the early 1990s found at least 150 flights in which US commercial passenger and cargo planes have either landed at the wrong airport or started to land and realized their mistake in time.
In most cases, the pilots were cleared by controllers to fly based on what they could see rather than relying on automation. Many incidents occurred at night, with pilots reporting they were attracted by the runway lights of the first airport they saw during descent. Some pilots said they disregarded navigation equipment that showed their planes slightly off course because the information didn’t match what they were seeing through their windows – a runway straight ahead.
Is there a clear pattern in the decision-making process that leads to such landings?
- Does the transition from automated or instrument flight to visual flight represent a vulnerable point in cockpit management?
- Is this phase of flight (perhaps after a long day) associated with moments of pilot inattention?
- Are there issues in the relationship that a flight crew has with navigational equipment that allow it to be 'disregarded' in this way?
I don't know if any of these are actually involved, they're just examples that I'm suggesting because I'd like a deeper answer than "sometimes pilots are inattentive".