Pilots suspended over 'taxiway takeoff bid'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 September, 2008, 12:00am

Captain denies claims; investigations launched

The pilot and co-pilot of a Hong Kong Airlines passenger plane have been grounded after they allegedly tried to take off from a taxiway rather than a runway at Chek Lap Kok airport.

An air traffic controller raised the alarm when he saw a South Korea-bound Boeing 737 carrying 122 passengers hurtling down a taxiway running parallel to the north runway at 4am last Saturday, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said.

The controller radioed the pilot and alerted him in time for him to abort takeoff after about 500 metres and take off from the runway instead, investigators said.

Following the incident, managers have sent a memo and maps of the layout of Chek Lap Kok to all pilots reminding them: 'Ensure you are on a runway before taking off.'

The incident took place on flight HX2692, a charter flight bound for Cheong Ju and operated by seven-year-old Hong Kong Airlines, which - with sister airline Hong Kong Express - flies to 30 cities in Asia.

Indonesian captain Indra Santrianto and his first officer Diego Martin Chiadria, an Argentinian aged about 30, have been suspended from duty while the airline and CAD continue their investigations.

Mr Indra, who is in his late 40s, was summoned to explain himself last weekend and insisted in an interview and a written report to his managers that he did not try to take off from the taxiway, a management source at the airline said.

Instead, he is understood to have argued that he was travelling so rapidly down the taxiway for the early morning flight that air traffic controllers may have mistaken this for an attempted takeoff. Flight data examined by investigators showed the plane was travelling at a higher speed than would be expected for an aircraft taxiing towards a takeoff position, the source said.

Hong Kong Airlines was yesterday awaiting a report from the CAD and for details of recordings of conversations between the pilots and air traffic controllers.

A management source said Hong Kong Airlines was also taking steps to ensure all its pilots had practice in using taxiways at Chek Lap Kok before flying in and out of Hong Kong.

Taxiways at the airport run the entire length of runways but are narrower, have different coloured lighting and, unlike runways, do not have lights up the centre.

One senior Hong Kong-based pilot said last night: 'There is nothing on board a plane to warn you if you take off from a taxiway or if you stray onto an active runway, and this is a problem that needs addressing.

'Fortunately, at Hong Kong, air traffic controllers have on-ground radar so they would be able to tell very quickly if a plane was trying to take off in the wrong place.'

A Hong Kong Airlines spokeswoman said: 'This case is currently under investigation by our management, so we can make no further comment on it at the moment.'

The CAD said in a statement that despite the pilot's claims, it had concluded that the aircraft 'attempted to take off at taxiway A instead of the north runway'.

There was no danger to the aircraft or the passengers at any point, it said.

A CAD spokesman said there had been three cases involving pilots taking wrong turns into taxiways when attempting a takeoff. 'Improvements to the lighting, taxiway signs and airlines' operations procedures have been implemented after the last two occurrences in June 2003 and May 2007,' he said.