Thoughts on Boeing's Boo-Boo

I missed the posting of the front page article, so I'll give my professional opinion on the matter here, going off news reports and the ATC recording on the front page.

My first question, which will come out but I haven't found the answer for: was the flight operating under Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 91 or Part 135? Part 91 is non-revenue general aviation, such as a personal Cessna or a Boeing test flight. Part 135 is revenue cargo aviation, such as if someone way paying Boeing to transport something. If the flight was Part 135, any instrument flight aids, such as Instrument Landing System (ILS) or Area Navigation Global Positioning System (RNAV GPS), would be used. All four runways have RNAV, but the intended runway, 19L, only has RNAV, which the pilots reported they were using. For refrence, the RNAV approach for 19L and the ILS approach for 19R are below.

Thoughts on Boeing's Boo-Boo

Thoughts on Boeing's Boo-Boo

RNAV is a much newer system, but it is more precise than ILS and 747 pilots should be familiar with it by now. If the RNAV approach was entered into the flight computer properly, it would be immediately obvious that they were landing at the wrong airport.

Then, after the pilots stop and tell ATC they need a moment, McConnell says the tower is 9 miles southeast of the plane. This announcement comes after the pilots report wheels down. If ATC was closely monitoring the aircraft's position, "wheels down" 9 miles from the tower should have at least made the controllers think, "Huh?"

The pilots then ask for the tower frequency at Beech and later Jabrara. These frequencies would be on the pilots' sectional charts, but with so much going on in the cockpit, it's not unusual for the pilots to ask ATC for this information. What is odd is the pilots asking for the coordinates of the airport. Unless my understanding of Boeing's avionics is completely off-base, the 747's GPS should have a sectional chart overlay option, making their current airport immediately obvious. In reality, the pilots couldn't confirm their location until 6 1/2 minutes after landing.

Obviously both the pilots and the controllers should have caught this incident long before the plane landed, but it seems to be two classic cases of insufficient human resource management by both parties. I'm quite interested in hear what the FAA and most likely the NTSB eventually discover.