Focus on visual approach put A319 on wrong runway

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Pilots of an Air France Airbus A319 erroneously landed on the wrong runway at Casablanca after accepting a visual approach and failing to notice that the jet was aligned on a parallel centreline. Moroccan investigators found that the aircraft, cleared to land on runway 35L, had correctly acknowledged the clearance but approached high and fast, partly owing to a strong tailwind.

The aircraft (F-GRXC) landed instead on runway 35R, which a departing Royal Air Maroc flight had been instructed to cross - although its pilot chose to wait, having noticed the errant A319 on approach. "For information, Air France landed on 35R," the Maroc crew told air traffic control.

Cockpit-voice recordings were unavailable, but flight-data recorder information shows the Air France crew had prepared the aircraft for the 35L instrument landing system. Having taken the visual option, however, the pilots did not notice the cockpit indicators were showing a displacement far to the right. Moroccan accident investigation bureau BEA says that after being told to contact the tower during descent to 3,000ft (915m), the aircraft - experiencing a tailwind of 30kt (56km/h) - turned on to final. It was travelling at 175kt, with a 15kt tailwind, as it passed through 3,000ft. The bureau says the pilots were "always trying to catch up" during the approach. At 1,000ft above ground, the aircraft was still descending at 1,000ft/min, travelling 10kt faster than the reference speed.

Air France warns there is a risk of confusion between runways 35L and 35R - both about 4,000m (13,100ft) long - as well as the parallel taxiway T at Casablanca.

In its conclusions to the inquiry into the 8 August 2011 event, the BEA says that while the absence of cockpit-voice data had "not helped" to clarify the details, the pilots had not considered the possibility of a visual approach while briefing their arrival. Cockpit resource management had fallen short of the level required, particularly at an airport with a known runway confusion hazard.