2 planes abort landings at SFO when a Southwest jet taxied across their runways

Two airliners aborted landings at San Francisco International Airport last Friday morning around 9:15 a.m. after pilots spotted a Southwest Airlines jet taxiing across runways on which the other planes had been cleared to land.

An air traffic controller told the Southwest pilots they should not have been on the runways during the May 19 incident. 

A Southwest Airlines jet was inching towards Runway 28 left when a United Airlines jet was just a few hundred feet above the bay ready for final descent. An air traffic controller instructed the pilot to perform a precautionary go-around, even though the jet was previously cleared for landing.  

Moments later, an Alaska Airlines jet pilot was directed to abort his landing as the same Southwest jet had entered Runway 28 right. Recorded air traffic audio reveals the Southwest pilot was chided by the air traffic controller, "You shouldn’t be on the runway." When one of the pilots tried to explain, the controller cut him off, saying, "I don’t need an argument."

The Federal Aviation Administration reported in an emailed statement to KTVU, that it reviewed the events that took place and determined that "appropriate steps were taken to assure safe operations." Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board said it was not investigating the incident. 

It was earlier this week when East Bay Assemblymember Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA) a ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure along with Rick Larsen, (D-WA) applauded the passage of the NOTAM Improvement Act of 2023 in the House.

"The fact that these near misses keep happening is really alarming! You’d think the FAA would really be alert, after all the attention we’ve paid to it," said DeSaulnier through Zoom.

He spoke further about the need for enhanced updates to technology for the entire aviation industry. 

"We’ve had way too many of these in this country, particularly in the last five years." 

His reaction to the FAA’s statement on the go-around process being a standard for safe operations, he commented on the pilot and the air controller’s role; saying "They did what they [were] trained to do, but they shouldn’t have had to do what they did, because the Southwest plane shouldn’t have been where it was. "


 "The NOTAM Improvement Act and the task force that it creates, will play an important role in the FAA’s ongoing NOTAM modernization initiative, which should be an important part of our ongoing conversations as we address and improve all aspects of aviation safety," DeSaulnier said in a statement.

Memorial Day weekend is reported to be the busiest weekend at both San Francisco and Oakland International Airports in years. 

The incident comes after a half-dozen close calls in recent months that are being investigated by safety officials. Those include one in February in which a FedEx plane flew about 100 feet (30 meters) over the top of a Southwest jet in Austin, Texas, after an air traffic controller cleared both planes to use the same runway.

The San Francisco airport was the scene of a frightening near-disaster in 2017, when pilots of an Air Canada jet mistook a taxiway for their runway and nearly landed on top of four other planes waiting to take off.

Despite recent close calls, the acting head of the FAA has said the nation’s air-traffic system is safe, pointing to the lack of a fatal crash involving a U.S. airline since 2009.

However, concern about the close calls led the FAA to hold a "safety summit" in March. The agency said this week it is investing $100 million in improvements at 12 airports — but not San Francisco — to reduce the number of "runway incursions," when a plane or airport vehicle is on a runway when it should not be.

The Associated Press and KTVU reporter Henry K. Lee contributed to this report. Follow Alice Wertz on Twitter at @AlicesTake.