Several weeks ago, an Easyjet plane nearly collided during takeoff with a Turkish Airlines jet on the ground at Hamburg Airport. With good visibility down the runway, it is hard to understand how this potentially catastrophic situation could have devloped. Easyjet has not answered my questions about the incident.
At around 21:00 local time on Wednesday, 17 April an Easyjet A320 (flight U2-1028 to Basel, plane registration HB-JXO) was poised to take off runway 05 at Hamburg Airport (EDDH), when a Turkish Airlines A321 (flight TK-1667, plane registration TC-JTP) inbound from Istanbul was landing on the same runway. The Turkish Airlines plane was still on the runway, rolling out from its landing, when the Easyjet Airbus commenced takeoff and accelerated down the runway.
Hamburg Tower instructed HB-JXO to aboard takeoff immediately, which the pilot did, engaging an emergency breaking maneuver at high speed. According to the Aviation Herald, the Easyjet plane slowed to taxi speed roughly 1600 metres down runway 05. At the same time, the Turkish Airlines Airbus entered a taxiway about 2950 metres down the same runway. No passengers or crew were injured in the near collision. The incident was reported a week later in the local press.
According to AV Herald, Easyjet Switzerland (which was operating the flight in question) issued the following statement:
“Easyjet can confirm that the Captain of flight EZS1028 from Hamburg to Basel Mulhouse aborted take-off following instructions from air traffic control. This was due to another aircraft being unable to vacate the runway, after the easyjet flight had originally been cleared to depart. This was in line with procedures and at no point was safety of passengers or crew compromised. The aircraft later continued to Basel Mulhouse.”
As you will notice, Easyjet is saying HB-JXO was “cleared to depart”. In aviation parlance, there is a marked difference between departure clearance and takeoff clearance. HB-JXO would only have been allowed to leave their waiting position and accelerate down the runway once it had been cleared for takeoff. There is speculation that Hamburg Tower thus cleared HB-JXO to line up on the runway behind the landing TC-JTP, but had not yet cleared the Easyjet plane to take off. The Easyjet pilot might have misunderstood this as takeoff clearance, which has happened before, according to numerous commercial pilots familiar with hectic airport operations all over the world.
Hamburg Airport is quite busy in the later part of the night as planes are only allowed to take off and land until 23:00 local time (“Nachtflugverbot”), at which point departing planes have to have left the immediate airspace of the airport and arriving planes have to be powered down in their parking positions. This makes the time between 21:00 and 22:30 one of the busiest phases at Hamburg Airport.
There’s also the question why the Easyjet crew did not notice the Turkish Airlines Airbus still on the runway. According to the METAR weather information quoted on AV Herald, there was good visibility (at least 10 kilometres) at the airport at the time of the incident:
EDDH 171920Z 06009KT CAVOK 10/05 Q1028 NOSIG=
CAVOK is shorthand for “Ceiling And Visibility OK”. Runway 05 at Hamburg Airport is situated such that you can see down its whole stretch from either end. It is therefore unlikely that the Turkish Airlines A321 was not visible from the cockpit of the Easyjet A320.
I sent press inquiries to the German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation (Bundesstelle für Flugunfalluntersuchung, BfU) and Easyjet about this incident. I asked the BfU if this incident had been investigated and got the following response:
“The incident on 17/04/2019 was reported to the BfU. After analysis of the available information, the incident was qualified as neither an accident nor a severe disruption. Therefore, there was no further investigation by the BfU.
I asked Easyjet if they could confirm that HB-JXO had received takeoff clearance. I also asked them what their explanation was for the aborted takeoff when it seems to me their pilot must have noticed the Turkish Airlines plane that was still on the runway, giving conditions on the ground at that time. After repeated attempts to get an answer out of the Easyjet press contacts I have, more than a week later, not received a reply.
Header image: Easyjet