The UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is leading an inquiry into an incident yesterday when a flight operated on behalf of Ryanair landed on a demi-disused air field several kilometres from its intended destinatiuon.
The captain of the Eirjet Airbus A320, operating a UK domestic flight yesterday that landed at Ballykelly UK Army Air Corps base rather than City of Derry airport in Londonderry, 8km (5miles) away, was questioned yesterday by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), but will now face a grilling from the UK AAIB, who has taken over primary investigation of the incident . The Shannon-based airline operates flights under a wet lease agreement with Ryanair.
The AAIB is carrying out the investigation jointly with the Irish Air Accidents Unit into how the mistake happened. The IAA will simultaneously study procedures breakdown, although says the incident "is just something that happens". Ryanair has also launched its own investigation into the incident that left passengers stranded onboard the aircraft at the airfield that lacked stairs to disembark passenger jets.
Flight FR9884, operated by Eirjet on behalf of Ryanair, landed at Ballykelly airfield instead of City of Derry in Londonderry airport at 14:40 en route from Liverpool John Lennon airport. The Airbus A320 aircraft landed safely and the 39 passengers onboard were bussed to Derry, after waiting for steps to be transported from the main airport, Ryanair says.
However Ballykelly airfield, (formerly RAF Ballykelly) has 2,000m (6,600ft) of partially-paved strip, of which only around half is understood to be usable, not least since it is now intersected by a railway line. It has not been used for fixed wing aircraft since 1971 when it was transferred to the UK Army Air Corps to be used as a helicopter base.
Ryanair says this "incident arose as a result of an error by the Eirjet pilot who mistakenly believed he was on a visual approach to City of Derry airport. The Eirjet pilot was cleared by air traffic control in City of Derry for a visual approach and mistook the nearby Ballykelly for City of Derry." Ballykelly lies on the same heading as Derry and air charts warn against possible confusion.
The A320 positioned "light" from the airfield at 18:20 yesterday back to Liverpool and is back operating commercial services for Ryanair today, Eirjet says. A relief crew flew the A320 and the return flight was cancelled, it adds.
Ryanair says: "In over seven years of Ryanair flights into City of Derry airport, and over 20 years of Ryanair operated flights, such a mistake has never occurred before."
Eirjet says it will work in full consultation with the investigation.