How is a plane removed from a place where it’s unable to takeoff again?


In 1997, a Saudi Airlines 747 landed at the wrong airport in India – it was supposed to land at Madras International Airport but ended up touching down at a nearby Indian air force base instead.  The pilot simply saw and aimed for the wrong runway.  Oops!

In that particular case, the base’s runways weren’t enough to allow the plane to safely take off again.

So, they made the plane as light as possible.  All of the passenger seats were taken out, as well as all of the galleys.  Any excess weight was removed from the plane to make it as light as possible.  It was given just a few minutes worth of fuel – the absolute minimum necessary to be able to get the plane in the air and make the short flight to the Madras airport, which was its original, intended destination and just a short hop away.

Big, longhaul planes that need longer runways are usually intended for longer flights, and thus a big reason they need such long runways for takeoff is they’re loaded up with so much fuel.  So, perhaps the Saudi 747 wasn’t the only case in which a large plane was stripped of as much weight as possible, and then given the absolute least amount of fuel possible – just enough to allow it to take off and get itself to the nearest airport with the right runway.

Apparently the same happened with a TWA flight that landed at the wrong airport near Steamboat Springs, CO in 2001, and an Atlas Air cargo jet that landed at the wrong airport in AZ.  In each case, all excess weight was removed from the plane, and it was given just enough fuel to get it to the correct airport.  Once there, everything was put back on the plane (after being trucked over) and it was put back in service.  Obviously, these situations each involve pilots accidentally landing at the wrong airport, mistaking them for the (nearby) airport they were supposed to land at.  So in these situations, giving the planes just enough fuel to get to the proper airport – but not enough to prevent them from taking off on the short runway – was an option.

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