Vaimoana Tapaleao is the New Zealand Herald's Pacific Affairs and People reporter.

Plane smashes runway lights at Auckland Airport, flies on

The pilot continued on course to Sydney despite the wheels being damaged. Photo / Getty
The pilot continued on course to Sydney despite the wheels being damaged. Photo / Getty

A plane carrying almost 200 passengers smashed into runway lights at Auckland Airport and continued flying on to Sydney with damaged tyres - all without the pilots alerting authorities.

A report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission said the incident was only discovered during a routine runway check on the morning of May 18, 2013.

Seven of the elevated runway edge lights were damaged and debris was left scattered on the runway as a result. The area had to be shut down for 20 minutes as work was carried out to remove debris and replace the lights.

It was later found the lights were damaged when an Airbus A340 aircraft, operated by the Chilean LAN Airlines, made its departure earlier that morning.

There were 196 passengers on board, as well as eight members of the cabin crew, the captain and first officer.

The TAIC report confirmed that at the time of take-off, visibility was good even though it was dark. A tower controller gave the aircraft clearance as it entered the runway after the captain had taxied the aeroplane from the gate for a take-off towards the west.

"The two pilots performed the remaining tasks and before-take-off checks while the aeroplane was taxiing. The captain then turned the aeroplane sharply to line up with what he thought were the runway centreline lights -- but which were actually the right-hand runway edge lights, and applied take-off thrust," the report read.

"While accelerating towards take-off speed, the captain realised that the aeroplane was not aligned with the runway centreline. He steered the aeroplane back onto the runway centreline and continued with the take-off. The pilots did not report the incident to air traffic control at the time."

The aircraft was later inspected on arrival in Sydney. Two tyres had been damaged in the incident and had to be replaced.

Following the incident, Auckland Airport reviewed its procedures with the CAA, Airways Corporation and TAIC.

"As a result of this review we have added some paint markings to our taxiway to guide aircraft turning onto the runway," a spokeswoman said.

"We have since been consulted on the TAIC report and support its findings about lighting and airport design.

"We are now working with Airways to confirm a plan and dates to carry out the agreed work."

The Commission said at some stage of the checks before take-off, the captain "lost awareness" of exactly where the aircraft was in relation to the runway's centreline.

As a result of the incident, the Commission made recommendations to address a number of safety issues it identified.

The issues related to:

• The intensity settings for aerodrome lighting,

• Administrative errors and

• The potential ambiguity in the way relevant International Civil Aviation Organization standards for airport design and operations might be interpreted.

- NZ Herald

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