Shock: How American 777 Pilots Almost Caused Crash

Last week I wrote about how an American and a Delta plane almost collided on the runway at JFK. Many of us have wondered how such a thing could happen, and now we have more information.

The basics of the JFK runway incident between American & Delta

Just to reiterate the basics, on January 13, 2023, an American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER and a Delta Boeing 737-900 nearly collided on runway 4L at JFK. The Delta plane had been cleared to take off and the American plane accidentally went to the wrong runway. In the process, the American 777 overshot the runway used to take off from where the Delta jet was accelerating.

Fortunately, air traffic controllers quickly realized what was happening and the Delta pilots immediately aborted the flight, averting a potential disaster. Below you can see a recreation of what happened and hear air traffic control.

The big question was whether the American 777 pilots could make such a mistake, not only by taxiing to the wrong runway, but also by crossing an active runway without permission. Well, now we have some concepts.

Factors affecting this event

Forbes has an interesting story that allegedly led to this incident. Not sure if I know these details or more. Here are some of the key facts according to the sources cited:

  • The first officer was completely new to the Boeing 777 and had previously flown the Boeing 737; Made its first 777 flight after 100 hours of training flights
  • Not only that, it was the officer’s first flight under the new cabin procedures implemented by the airline on January 2.
  • With these new procedures, he had to deal with a number of new tasks, including processing flight data, including flap and power settings, runway evaluation, and announcing the cabin liftoff.

Another major question after the incident is why the American plane did not return to the gate, but instead went to London. Apparently, the American pilots did not understand how serious the incident was:

  • Although air traffic controllers gave American pilots a phone number to call (as is standard after any security incident), it’s unclear whether they actually got through.
  • The American pilots initially did not realize that the runway had been invaded; the pilots switched to the tower frequency only after the Delta plane had been cleared for takeoff, so they did not realize that the Delta plane’s takeoff was related to their actions.
  • It is reported that the crew did not understand the seriousness of the situation until the plane reached London
  • Although there was a third pilot in the jump seat in the cockpit, he didn’t realize anything was wrong.

Now, of course, this doesn’t explain why the (experienced) captain took the plane to the wrong runway. Not only did the pilots not taxi to their destination runway, but you’d think the captain would understand the general traffic flow at the airport. How on earth could such a thing happen?

So the above in no way explains the root cause of this near disaster. Part of flying safely is having multiple sets of eyes double-checking that everything is correct. Obviously, if you have a pilot who is less experienced and learning new procedures at the same time, this potentially reduces the safety margins.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that there was some general confusion and tension in the cockpit because you had a very inexperienced first officer on this particular aircraft combined with new procedures.

The first officer was completely new to the Boeing 777

Interesting security concerns of the Union

Whether the new cockpit procedures contributed to this phenomenon is debatable. After the first training, you had the first officer flying the 777 and on top of that he was learning the new cockpit procedures.

When the Americans introduced these new cockpit safety procedures earlier in the year, the Allied Pilots Association (the union representing American pilots) warned of the safety risks of doing so.

In particular, the union argued that pilots should be trained in person rather than through a bulletin where they must read the new rules. As a union spokesman said at the time, “reading assignments are not training.”

According to the Union’s announcement on January 2:

American Airlines Flight Operations management is attempting to circumvent robust pilot safety training by unilaterally implementing operational changes via bulletin. While APA is not opposed to fleet alignment, we remain committed to ensuring that pilots are properly trained before operating with passengers. This training should be developed in a stakeholder safety culture that acknowledges and addresses the concerns raised by the APA. To date, this has not happened. Attempting to practice with this bulletin risks seriously breaching security boundaries while ignoring serious security concerns and well-established best practices.

Simply put, the management’s actions are unwise and dangerous.

Operational changes that management tries to implement without thorough training alter how pilots communicate, coordinate, and perform flight safety duties during some of the most dangerous times of flight. These high-threat times include, but are not limited to, rejected flights, low-visibility approaches, and round-trips. Harmonized and standardized communication and coordination of the crew during all phases of flight, especially during high-task maneuvers, is the basis for maintaining the safety margin. The management’s attempt to train through the bulletin smacks of training in front of the cheap and profitable.

And about two weeks later, this happens. I don’t think it was the reason for such a serious near-miss, although I think it is at least likely that it caused the confusion in the cockpit.

The union was not satisfied with the introduction of new procedures

Bottom line

An American Airlines Boeing 777 taxied onto the runway at JFK recently as a Delta Boeing 737 took off. Fortunately, air traffic controllers realized what was going on and canceled the flight clearance for the Delta jet. Disaster was narrowly averted, and it’s possible (though not guaranteed) that it could have ended very differently.

There were questions about how such a thing could happen. While it is still unclear why the senior 777 captain taxied the plane to the wrong runway, we now know that the first officer was brand new to the Boeing 777 and was also familiar with the new cockpit procedures he was still dealing with. with the first time.

I’m curious to see what a thorough investigation reveals about how a plane could have gone onto the wrong runway without anyone noticing.

What do you think about the added details about this event?

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