MIAMI – Yesterday, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) cargo flight ET3891 was the first airline to land at a new airport in the Zambia Copperbelt province, albeit without a water cannon salute.

The welcoming party was not comprised of two brand-new red airport fire service vehicles. Instead, a group of completely astonished workers welcomed the cargo plane. They might have expected to see public works machinery on the apron, but not an aircraft. The reason is simple: the airport is not yet finished and not open to traffic.

The incident happened in Zambia when the crew of an ET B737-800F, arriving from Addis Ababa (ADD) and supposed to land at Ndola Simon Mwanza Kapwepwe International Airport (NLA), made an approach and landed at Copperbelt’s new international airport, 15km away from their original destination.

The error became clear when the crew, during the final approach, communicated with NLA tower but were told “we cannot see you”, a quite normal remark as, in fact, the flight was not there.

We Can’t See You

The landing, no doubt performed under VFR (Visual Flight Rules), was uneventful. When reaching the apron, the crew did not find the usual marshaller to guide them to a parking position but a large group of workers making frantic signs indicating that the flight was not supposed to land there.

The crew did not panic and continued to taxi to the next taxiway, re-entered the runway, backtracked and took off for their intended destination.

As reported by, the Zambian Transport Ministry Secretary, Misheck Lungu, while speaking to AFP, said that the aircraft had landed at the new airport “by error.” He added, “when he was about to land, [the pilot] was communicating with the radar and they told him we can’t see you.”

An ET spokesperson indicated that the pilot was unaware of a new airport being constructed and having the same runway heading as the old one. Et also stated that the lack of NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) on the new construction as well as the vicinity of the NLA airport “may have contributed to the incident.”

Featured image: Alberto Cucini/Airways