Attempted Finnair take-off from HK taxiway triggers investigation

An investigation was launched by Hong Kong aviation officials after a Finnair passenger plane attempted to take off from a taxiway rather than a runway at Chek Lap Kok.

The Airbus A340-300, carrying 260 passengers and 14 crew bound for Helsinki, began its take-off roll down the taxiway, parallel to the runway, early last Saturday and was spotted by an air traffic controller.

'The air traffic controller alerted the pilot immediately and the aircraft was stopped as soon as the aircraft began to move,' a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Department said. 'There was no danger to the aircraft or the passengers at any point.'

An investigation was under way 'to identify the factors which might have led to the incident'.

Finnair said it was 'giving all possible help to official investigators' and no disciplinary action was taken as investigations by Hong Kong authorities and Finland's Accident Investigation Board were under way.

Last week's incident follows one in September 2008 when a Hong Kong Airlines jet bound for South Korea tried to take off from a taxiway rather than a runway. In a separate case in January, another Hong Kong Airlines plane strayed onto an active runway, forcing a Cathay Pacific jet to abandon take-off.

The two incidents raised concerns over whether runway and taxiway markings at Chek Lap Kok were clear enough for pilots.

Asked whether the department believed improvements were needed, the spokeswoman said: 'As an investigation into the latest incident is still going on, it is too early to determine whether any further improvement work in respect of runway/taxiway markings is necessary. We would like to emphasise that the airfield marking and lighting system at the [airport] fully complies with international standards.

'In the light of the previous incidents, the Airport Authority ... in consultation with the [department] had implemented a number of measures including improvements to the lighting, ground marking and signage at the [airport] to assist pilots in maintaining their orientation.'

She said the department installed early last year an advanced system to give air traffic controllers information on aircraft movements on the airfield.

The probable causes of the incidents in September 2008 and January last year were 'loss of situational awareness by the operating crew', she said. The pilot and co-pilot in the 2008 incident were sacked.

Dave Newberry, a member of the Hong Kong Airline Pilots Association technical safety committee, said: 'Hong Kong is one of the best in the world in terms of layout and runways. Hong Kong is a very pilot-friendly airport.

'If people can go wrong in Hong Kong, God help them in places like Heathrow and JFK in New York.'

The problem of aircraft straying onto runways or trying to take off from taxiways was an industry-wide one caused by expanding airports worldwide.