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Looking at

it seems they were right there, they had an emergency, surely even a civilian airplane can land at a naval base in an emergency. I know 767-300ERs used to fly from LGA which only have 7000 ft runways and NTD has a 11000 ft one. So, why not?

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In general, a commercial airliner declaring an emergency can request to land at a military airport. However, this aircraft was at over 19,000 ft when they declared an emergency:

FlightAware screenshot
(flightaware.com ATN1917 on 26 May 2022)

Descending from this altitude takes quite some time. You can see on the altitude profile that they descended continuously shortly after leveling off. The descent rate is only shallower when reaching 10,000 ft (to slow down to 250 kt) and then when slowing further for the approach.

Landing at the nearby Naval Base would have taken the same amount of time. They would have had to descend in a holding pattern. Therefore, it makes sense to fly back to your departure airport, where maintenance facilities are available to get the aircraft repaired quickly:

The aircraft remained on the ground in Los Angeles for about 24 hours before returning to service.

(Aviation Herald)

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. People often forget to think in three dimensions 😊 $\endgroup$
    – Arkhem
    Sep 8, 2022 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ It's not just maintenance facilities, landing at a commercial airport makes it much easier to get all the affected passengers and their luggage to their intended destinations. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2022 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight Prime Air does not fly any passengers, but people surely want their Amazon packages to be on time xD $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Sep 8, 2022 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ You're saying that landing at NAS Ventura County would have effectively required falling out of the sky, and that's generally frowned upon by all involved, especially the pilots in question? $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Sep 8, 2022 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Also, LAX has a compatible ILS system, an approach they're familiar with and have charts for, etc. That is likely not the case at a naval air base. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2022 at 17:35

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