In the category of what can only be described as bizarre, general, business and social media amplified this week’s incident of a massive cargo plane that landed at the wrong Wichita Kansas airport.

The story has very obvious supply chain related connotations since the modified Boeing 747 Dreamlifter aircraft was actually an integral part of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner transportation and logistics replenishment network. This aircraft is one of four 747’s modified to haul aircraft body and wing parts between Boeing’s supplier factories across the globe.  Readers will recall that the 787 supply chain extends globally with major suppliers in both Europe, Japan and other countries.

The plane was operated by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings departed New York’s JFK International Airport on Wednesday for its scheduled flight to McConnell Air Force Base, which is adjacent to Boeing’s major aircraft structure supplier Spirit Aerosystems. The aircraft was cleared to land but mistakenly landed at the much smaller Jabara Airport, about 10 miles to the north. Communications between the flight crew and air traffic controllers indicate that the pilots were confused as to which airport the plane had landed.  There is another adjacent airport to the south of McConnell. In its reporting of the incident, the Wall Street Journal included excerpts from the air traffic transcript which indicate the pilots initially believed that they has landed at the Beech Aircraft Factory Airport to the south.

In a credit to collaboration and ingenuity, both Sprit and Boeing devised an alternative plan to fly the aircraft from the smaller airport that did not have adequate runway length.  Apparently a new flight crew was flown in to pilot the aircraft and achieve takeoff from the rather short runway with no local airport air traffic assistance. A massive modified tug was brought over from McConnell to turn the aircraft around in the smaller runway, but it reportedly broke-down, but eventually made it to Jabara. The aircraft successfully took-off on Thursday afternoon and landed at nearby McConnell to unload its cargo.

In past times, this particular incident would not have gained such global and instantaneous visibility. With so many airports close by to its destination, mistakes can be made. There is no doubt that the flight crew is embarrassed and will be subject to some scrutiny and perhaps punitive measures. However, this new era of round the clock news coverage amplified by the power of social media had the images and byline of a stranded cargo plane noted everywhere, and made this incident even more concerning. 

Supply Chain Matters recently echoed newly voiced concerns penned in a Wall Street Journal  editorial by noted pilot Sully Sullenberger who questioned whether air cargo crews may perhaps be working excessive hours with important and worrisome signs of fatigue. Luckily, this week’s incident had an eventual positive outcome. Both Atlas Air and Boeing however would be wise to insure that a thorough investigation is undertaken to determine what actually happened and how such a fundamental error actually occurred.  This could have had a more tragic outcome.

In our past commentary we asked readers for comments as to whether they were concerned or have observed signs of air cargo pilot fatigue. The same question continues.