Hear what pilots had to say after finding ILM runway systems shut down

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A scary situation in mid-air has Wilmington’s airport making national headlines.

Construction work is being done at night, but what’s being called “human error” led to the runway lights being shut off an hour early Wednesday night. That left pilots with no way to land their planes.

Bob Keister is headed back to Michigan.

“I was in town to meet some fraternity brothers I went to school with many years ago in Topsail Island,” he said as he headed for a flight at Wilmington International Airport this morning.

He heard about the diverted flights at ILM Wednesday night.

“I’ve never been on a flight that had to be turned around, but I’ve been on a flight that had to go around a couple times to land,” Keister said.

He’s headed home happy. Not so happy were passengers on two flights late Wednesday.

“We can’t continue anywhere else,” a pilot of one of the flights told air traffic controllers. “We probably have to go back to Charlotte.”

Pilots of two planes, a US Airways flight from Charlotte and a Delta flight from Atlanta, could not land because a system to guide the planes to the runway at ILM was shutdown an earlier than planned.

“It’s almost like someone flipped the switch early on accident,” one of the pilots told controllers. “I’m just passing that along to you. You can decide what you want to do”

What they would decide to do is return to Charlotte and Atlanta.

ILM officials say it was a mistake. The system was to shut down for construction at 12:15 a.m. Thursday. Instead, it shut down an hour early.

Traveler Thomas McGuinn says it brings to light the need to review operations.

“It opens up a box,” McGuinn said. “I’d say Wilmington should look at their system and make some corrections”

Corrections that will be reviewed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which says it is investigating why the instrument landing system was shut down an hour early.

The Wilmington tower is closed each night from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. During that time air traffic is handled by controllers in Washington, DC.

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