Investigators have disclosed that a TAP Air Portugal Airbus A321neo arriving in the Azores executed a go-around during the flare after its crew saw a maintenance van on the runway, in the vicinity of the touchdown zone.

Two aircraft had been inbound to the single-runway Ponta Delgada airport on 13 May – the TAP A321neo bound for runway 30 and a SATA Bombardier Dash 8-200 turboprop, approaching the opposite-direction runway 12.

NOTAM information had declared runway 30’s ILS glidepath to be unavailable owing to maintenance, and the single controller on duty – working a combined approach and tower position – denied both an ILS approach and a localiser approach to the A321neo crew.

Maintenance of the ILS glideslope was underway at the time, with a vehicle having been authorised to enter the runway at about 09:30 – some 30min before the aircraft was due to arrive.

The crew pointed out that the NOTAM only mentioned the inoperative glideslope and the aircraft was subsequently cleared to the NAVPO waypoint, south-east of the airport. At 09:57 it was granted landing clearance for runway 30.

Owing to the inbound Dash 8 on the opposing course, the Airbus crew was instructed, in the event of a go-around, to climb straight ahead to 2,000ft or below.

Visual conditions prevailed and the pilots saw the maintenance van parked on the right-hand side of runway 30 as the aircraft flared.


Source: GPIAAF

Surveillance cameras captured the TAP A321neo and the parked maintenance vehicle

Portuguese investigation authority GPIAAF indicates that the van was located some 300m ahead of the runway aiming point, and it puts the separation between the jet and the vehicle at 280m.

As the pilots initiated a go-around, they mentioned the vehicle’s presence to the controller, who instructed the aircraft to turn left.

“The maintenance team in the vehicle, after the overflight of the aircraft, immediately abandoned the runway,” says GPIAAF in a preliminary bulletin on the serious incident.

None of the 186 occupants of the A321neo (CS-TJI), or members of the maintenance team, was injured.

GPIAAF says its probe will analyse co-ordination procedures for ground operations, human factors, equipment availability, and risk management of runway incursions as part of its inquiry.