On Sunday 15 July 2018 an aircraft departed from the Buitenveldertbaan (09) at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, while the runway was not yet made available at LVNL. The incident arose because the administrative procedure to make a runway available had not yet been completed. Also because all parties involved were aware of the planned availability, there was no danger of collision during the departure.
LVNL (Air Traffic Control the Netherlands) conducted an investigation into this incident itself and reported it to the Onderzoeksraad voor Veiligheid (Dutch Safety Board).
Description of situation
On this day, take-offs were being performed at Schiphol on the Zwanenburgbaan runway (36C) to the north and the Buitenveldertbaan runway (09) to the east.
Tower crew relieved
Prior to the occurrence, there was a crew change as some of the tower crew went to take a break and were relieved by colleagues. Following the crew change, Schiphol set the status of the Buitenveldertbaan runway to 'unavailable' upon request by Air Traffic Control the Netherlands as the peak period of aircraft departures was over.
Buitenveldertbaan runway prepared for availability
Shortly after, it was found that more departing aircraft had been scheduled than could be handled from a single runway, so tower control decided to prepare the Buitenveldertbaan runway to be made available again. In accordance with procedure, this was reported to bird control who then conducted – once permission had been granted – a runway inspection on the Buitenveldertbaan runway
Tow control anticipated use of Buitenveldertbaan runway
Subsequently, tow control phoned tower control to make sure that the Buitenveldertbaan runway was going to be put into use. This was confirmed. Tow control therefore instructed the driver of a towing truck at aircraft stand D95 to make its journey to Schiphol-Oost via the Aalsmeerbaan runway instead of the Buitenveldertbaan runway. The reason given was that the Buitenveldertbaan runway was going to be put into use.
Airbus given taxi clearance
The tower crew that had been on their break returned and relieved the colleagues that had taken their place. The crew of an Airbus A330-300 was then instructed by ground control to taxi to the Buitenveldertbaan runway and upon arrival, to switch to the frequency of the runway controller.
The runway controller then instructed the Airbus crew to line up on the runway. The runway controller then arranged with the Schiphol Approach controller for a take-off to be performed from the Buitenveldertbaan runway. The runway controller then gave the Airbus crew clearance to take off, which the Airbus subsequently did. The runway controller then instructed the crew of an Embraer E190 to line up on the Buitenveldertbaan runway.
Buitenveldertbaan runway still administratively unavailable
Radar control noticed that the Buitenveldertbaan runway had not yet been designated as available and communicated this immediately to tower control. Tower control then contacted the airport to set the status of the Buitenveldertbaan runway to 'available'.
Slightly earlier, the airport had received a report from an aircraft whose brakes had overheated at a gate. The airport was therefore setting a pre-alarm at the time: this was the reason for the delay in making the runway available.
In the meantime, the runway controller had given take-off clearance to the crew of the E190, although it withdrew clearance during the same radio transmission and instructed the crew to wait. The E190 only took off once the Buitenveldertbaan runway had been designated as available and take-off clearance was issued a second time.
No formal request made to the airport
In accordance with procedure, preparations were being made by Air Traffic Control the Netherlands to make the Buitenveldertbaan runway available as a take-off runway. As part of these preparations, the runway was inspected by bird control. Immediately after the inspection by bird control, Air Traffic Control the Netherlands should officially request that the runway is made available. However, this was not done in this case.
Another relevant factor is that the air traffic controllers who was returning from their break were operating under the assumption that the Buitenveldertbaan runway was still in use.
Radar control informed tower control, tower control informed the airport
Following the take-off of the Airbus, radar control saw on the runway status panel that the Buitenveldertbaan runway had evidently not yet been made available and they immediately communicated this to tower control. Subsequently, the tower contacted the airport to arrange for the runway to be made available. The runway controller had already issued take-off clearance to the next flight – the E190 – but withdrew this clearance during the same radio transmission.
No danger of collision
The potential risk of taking off from a runway with the status 'unavailable' stems from possible conflicts between departing aircraft and vehicles. Partly due to the fact that the parties involved had already been informed of the scheduled availability of the Buitenveldertbaan runway, no conflicting traffic was on the runway at the time that the Airbus was taking off. As a result, there was no danger of a collision taking place.
Follow-up action based on this investigation
The main cause of the occurrence is that Air Traffic Control the Netherlands did not issue a formal request to Schiphol to make the Buitenveldertbaan runway available. Based on the investigation into this occurrence, an internal recommendation was made to ensure a more straightforward description of the existing working methods for requesting and releasing runways, with the goal of clearly designating the specific responsibilities of all parties involved and communicating these responsibilities to all parties.
Classification: serious incident