Disaster was narrowly avoided when an American Airlines 777 crossed the wrong runway at New York (JFK) and nearly collided with a Delta Air Lines 737. With all the safeguards in place, it is a reminder that human error can still have catastrophic consequences.
American 777, Delta 737 Jets Nearly Collide At New York JFK
At 8:45 pm ET on Friday, January 13, 2023, an American Airlines 777-200ER crossed runway at 4L at JFK at the same moment a Delta Air Lines 737-900 was cleared to takeoff on the same runway. The American 777 was traveling to London (LHR) under AA106 while the Delta 737 was traveling to Santo Domingo (SDQ).
As first noted by @xJonNYC, thankfully an air traffic controller noticed the impending crisis and cancelled takeoff clearance.
— 🇺🇦 JonNYC 🇺🇦 (@xJonNYC) January 14, 2023
Air Traffic Controller: Sh*t! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance. Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance.
Delta Pilot: Rejecting.
Delta Pilot: All right, whew, Delta 1943.
Air Traffic Controller: Delta 1943, are you able to taxi, or do you need a couple of minutes to run checks?
Delta Pilot: Yeah we can get off the runway, Delta 1943.
Check out this helpful illustration–
Here’s another one, illustrated by FlightRadar24:
— Casey Wade (@CaseWade) January 14, 2023
Meanwhile, the following conversation took place between ATC and the AA pilot:
American Pilot: The last clearance we were given, we were cleared to cross, is that correct?
Air Traffic Controller: American 106 heavy, we’re departing runway 4L, I guess we’ll listen to the tapes, but you were supposed to depart runway 4L, you’re currently holding short of runway 31L.
The American Airlines flight took off for London, landing 30 minutes late. The Delta flight was cancelled (it is not clear why).
How Could This Have Been Avoided?
An investigation has been launched and we can make no definitive statements yet, though ATC audio and flight path illustrations suggest pilot error on the part of the American Airlines 777 flight deck. That aircraft was ordered to cross 31L in order to depart from 4L, but crossed 4L instead.
It is possible a collision could have been avoided even if the Delta flight had not aborted takeoff, but it is sobering to note how little distance separated the two aircraft…only 1,000 feet. The 777-200 is 210 feet long.
121Pilot, our resident commercial airline pilot on Live and Let’s Fly, recently discussed the importance of airmanship. I think it merits repeating here as his words are almost haunting in light of this incident:
What about good judgment? How do we teach that? First and foremost, we as professional pilots have to recognize that we are just that, professionals. This means a dedication to our craft that goes beyond simply showing up to work day after day. It means studying accident reports to learn from the mistakes of others. It means thinking through the various things that can and have gone wrong and trying to figure out in advance how we might bring those events to a successful conclusion. It means we must take responsibility for ensuring that no matter what we have the best possible chance of bringing our aircraft and passengers safely home.
Absolutely fundamental to aircraft safety is correctly hearing, repeating, then executing air traffic control instructions. But it is good judgment that can prevent and effectively react to things going wrong…and also recognize when something seems off. Wouldn’t one of the American Airlines pilots have noticed (either visually or via audio) that most takeoffs were occurring on 4L?
> Read More – Airmanship: What Pilots Need Most
What appears to be a near-miss was avoided thanks to decisive action by an air traffic controller and Delta 737 pilot. While we cannot definitively say that absent such intervention there would have been a deadly accident, this is the sort of risk you never want to gamble with.
Thoughts of the 1977 KLM – PanAm Tenerife incident dance through my head as I think about this incident (different fact pattern, of course, but for the sheer terror of recognizing the disaster as it occurs). I am so grateful that disaster was avoided and hope that from this incident will come additional safeguards and of course, airmanship.
image: Grant Wickes