August 26, 2013
Rising, unpopulated terrain ahead of Runway 18 at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, Ala., could have created visual illusions that complicated the pre-dawn landing of UPS Flight 1354, an Airbus A300-600F that slammed into a hilltop short of the runway on Aug. 14, killing both pilots.
FAA training documents discuss a “black hole” illusion that it says is “particularly hazardous” when there are no lights before the runway and with city lights or rising terrain beyond the runway, conditions that are true for Runway 18 at Birmingham. “Those conditions may produce the visual illusion of a high-altitude final approach,” says the FAA. “If you believe this illusion, you may respond by lowering your approach slope.”