Vietnam Airlines pilots, unlicensed to land in tough weather, circle and turn back

By Doan Loan, Xuan Ngoc   December 14, 2016 | 10:20 pm PT
A 50-minute flight stretched into hours because the pilots weren't licensed to land in stormy weather.

A Vietnam Airlines flight from Tan Son Nhat to Cam Ranh Airport returned to Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday morning after three hours in the air.

Some 200 passengers boarded the flight at 5 a.m. and expected to land in under an hour at Cam Ranh Airport, around 35 kilometers from the popular resort town of Nha Trang.

Fog, strong winds and a little rain inspired the pilots to circle their destination for three hours waiting for the weather to clear; when it did not, they turned back to Tan Son Nhat.

An official from Vietnam Air Traffic Management Corporation said Cam Ranh has two runways: one faces the sea and the other faces the mountains -- the latter is reserved for landing in tough weather.

Pilots who engage in such landings must be certified in the use of the instrument landing system (ILS), which becomes critical when pilots cannot establish visual contact with the runway, the source said.

The two pilots on Tuesday's flight were not certified by the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam to use the system.

Vietnam Airlines said it assigned the pilots to the flight when the weather was fine; when the weather changed, obscuring visibility, the pilots had to turn back.

The carrier confirmed the pilots aboard were not licensed to land in such weather.

“The weather in this situation did not guarantee safe aviation conditions,” it said in a statement.

The flight crew and the air traffic controllers all followed proper protocol, the airline said.

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