Two American Airlines Pilots Almost Crashed, Totaled A Plane, Still Get To Fly

In April 2019, American Airlines flight AA300 from New York JFK to Los Angeles took off from runway 31L. The Airbus A321’s left wing tip hit a sign on the runway. The pilots continued the climb out, levelled off at 20,0000 feet, and returned 27 minutes later back to JFK.

The A321’s wing tip dragged on the ground of the runway. The wing was damaged (and so was the sign). The captain blamed crosswinds for veering left. The NTSB calls it pilot error. The leased aircraft was totaled. It sat for 15 months at New York JFK, and American decided to scrap it. And the pilots are still flying.

#breaking New pictures obtained by @CBSNewYork show some of the damage to @AmericanAir flt 300 including what was described as a runway “edge light” embedded in the damaged wing. The plane flew for 28 minutes with that light stuck in the wing! More on the @CBSEveningNews tonight pic.twitter.com/owL4peOxgv

— Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave) April 17, 2019

Over the weekend I saw the report at the Aviation Herald about the National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the incident.

The captain’s excessive left rudder pedal input during the takeoff ground roll, which caused a large heading deviation and a left roll upon rotation that resulted in the left wingtip striking the ground.

That’s understated agency-speak. One Mile at a Time highlights some of what we know happened from the cockpit voice recorder and investigation of the incident.

The captain said he couldn’t control the plane during takeoff. The first officer grabbed controls and the plane climbed out. There were crosswinds, but at most half of what’s allowable for takeoff.

First officer: “Your airplane, your airplane, your airplane. I don’t know what’s goin’ on.”

Captain: “What the # (happened)?”

First officer: “I don’t know. Ah the engines all go, good.”

Captain: “The # ju- it just # rolled on me.”

First officer: “What the # is that? Are we continuing? #. These girls will never fly with us again. I thought we were gone.”

First officer: “That scared the # outta me, I thought we were gone.”

Captain: “The # airplane just rolled on me dude.”

The captain talked about how much he hates flying the Airbus in crosswind, despite over 20,000 hours of flying and more than 3000 hours on the aircraft. He told a flight attendant that he thought the “rudder got jammed.” And he complained “there’s so many computers we don’t, we don’t know what it # does sometimes.”

He also told the first officer that he takes “full controls” on the plane and finds “it doesn’t react, it doesn’t do anything?” He had taken control of the aircraft despite only 17 mile per hour crosswind, and made a mistake.

Ultimately they returned to New York JFK not for safety but to protect themselves from criticism.

First officer: “Yeah I mean I’m just thinkin’ with that kind of an extreme maneuver, you know just, for the politics of it all. It might not be a bad idea go back, because, these girls will never fly with us again I’m tellin’ ya. and the, I mean that scared me that bad, that I’ve never been so scared in an airplane I don’t think I thought. I mean I wasn’t that scared because like, but I thought it was over. I thought we were goin down.”

Captain: “But yeah the passengers are probably all wondering and then people could ah monday morning quarterback you on continuing, with I’m just sayin’ that, I’m just putting that out there. I mean, I feel safe you know yeah let’s go, but you I’m just saying, I just wanted.”

First officer: “Or maybe call maintenance to cover your #. And tell ’em what happened and see what they- or just ah I don’t know yeah.”

Captain: “You know, I think you’re right.”

First officer: “I think you gotta cover your # on this one.”

The Captain lied to passengers that they had “isolated the faulty system.” To be sure there was no benefit in alarming passengers. At the same time, each time a pilot lies to passengers and it becomes known that reduces confidence and trust in pilots. Passengers don’t know what’s going on in the cockpit, and for the most part don’t understand it, they simply need to trust that the people up front do.

I understand that the pilots have been accepted into the FAA’s Aviation Safety Action Program which encourages voluntary reporting of violations. We want that. But it’s one thing that their licenses haven’t been pulled – it’s another thing entirely that the airline still employs them after totaling a $100 million (list price) aircraft.

According to American Airlines,

The safety of our customers and team members comes above all else at American. It guides every decision we make and action we take. We appreciate the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) thorough investigation and report. We are reviewing the NTSB’s report and recommendations and will closely examine if any changes are needed in training or procedures.

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