First Suits Launched In Delta Fuel Dump

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The legal fallout from a Delta 777’s fuel dump over parts of Los Angeles last week has begun to pile up and the FAA has promised to “thoroughly investigate” the incident. The aircraft took off from LAX for Shanghai just before noon last Tuesday and on the tower tape the crew accepted a “high speed climb” going through 6,000 feet. They then reported a compressor stall on the right engine and declared an emergency, asking for an immediate return to the airport. For at least part of the six-minute flight the crew opened dump valves on both wings of the widebody and showered a swath of L.A. with Jet A. Among those hit by the fuel were students and staff of an elementary school that was directly under the final approach path, and four teachers have launched lawsuits against the airline. California’s powerful air quality regulators have also served a formal notice of violation against the airline.

The teachers were among about 60 people at the school who were doused in kerosene. The teachers claim the plane shouldn’t have been allowed to take off in the first place and that the pilots didn’t follow the normal procedure of dumping fuel over water or less populated areas. They said they also “suffered severe emotional distress from the knowledge that they had involuntarily ingested toxins.” The Center for Disease Control says an accidental encounter with jet fuel can cause “cough and difficulty breathing, abdominal pain and vomiting, drowsiness, restlessness, and convulsions” and the local fire department said it treated 17 children and nine adults for “minor injuries.” No one was sent to the hospital. The crew opted to not head to a hold to dump fuel and instead opened the taps on downwind, base and final. They extended their downwind for about three minutes but did not explain the reason for the extra time to the SoCal controller.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. There just doesn’t appear to have been a pressing need to dump fuel at that height. They could have flown around all day and climbed into the 20s if they’d wanted. Is there operational pressure from a hazardous culture in the airline?

  2. Hey kids, the CDC also says diesel exhaust from school buses have the exact same symptoms. People don’t live in LA without involuntarily ingesting toxins. If you have SEVERE emotional distress from this then work on putting things in context and not going all ape excrement over life’s small inconveniences.

    • I lived on Edwards AFB for 15 years during my USAF time. The air in the Mojave desert’s “Antelope Valley” area north of LA is usually pristine … the worst thing going on is blowing sand but one rarely sees any smog there (during the 70’s and 80’s). When I retired, I went to work down in LA near downtown and commuted 100 miles each way for almost five years. I immediately began getting sick all the time from breathing the LA smog plus other pollutants plus spending nearly five hours / day (sic) commuting. SO . you’re right, Mark, people in LA breathe all manner of nasty things. When I moved back to working in the desert, the problems I encountered went away. Breathing some fuel vapor in LA would likely be the least of one’s problems. The ambulance chasing lawyers are to blame for this action.

    • “Doused with flamables?”
      Fill a coffee mug with Jet-A. Light a match. Drop the flaming match into the cup of jet fuel. The only injury you’ll suffer, will be from scratching your @ss when the flamable extinguishes the match.

      Chicken Little has been very busy, lately.
      I’m considering KFC for lunch.

      • Oh c’mon Yars, you’ve seen Bruce Willis in Diehard II drop a lighter into a puddle of Jet A on a frozen runway and watched as it flashed up to an airborne 747 causing it to explode. Surely that means it’s flammable, right?

        The problem is that the majority of the general public thinks things like that are real and has virtually no knowledge of the true facts. Small wonder that the teachers panic when the stuff rains down from above. And, when they panic, the kids will follow suit. Still, knowing the relatively benign nature of the material, I would not be too happy if my grandkids got a kerosene shower at school. Delta does have some ‘splainin’ to do…

  3. Kerosene is formulated to fit the definition of a combustible liquid rather than a flammable liquid.

    Dramatizing an event for proper CNN coverage is of course fodder for litigators around the country who sense a serious $$$ ca-ching $$$ moment.

    Heck, I think some Delta money would be nice. Could we maybe find out where most victims are “doused with flammables” – we could all stand in line to get a cut on the settlement. We’re the tough guys, afterall…

    In how far the liberal- controlled thinktank will be capable of regulating where emergencies are allowed to happen, remains to be seen. Certainly a very interesting year ahead. The era of completely institutionalized insanity has begun. I really wonder how many children will need counseling and psychiatric evaluations, after such a life altering incident.

    Since the air is so utterly clean and toxin- free in all of California, its probably best to settle for a good retirement courtesy of Delta and continue pursuit of a arbitrary and capricious regulatory future, where somehow, there are laws for preferred localities where emergencies are allowed to be had. Best to apply regular doctrine. Ban airplanes alltogether, problem solved!

    Lets put things in context: Iran (completely accidentally) fired a missle (or two) and downed a plane carrying 170+ people and liberals rushed to make excuses for the act. Everyone and their dogs got blaimed, except for the Iranians. To hell with the environment, to hell with dead people, to hell with the climate. To hell with the truth. Different environment, too.

    Screeeching location change: A Delta plane dumps fuel in response to a emergency, the pilot – protected by regulation as the FINAL AUTHORITY on the action – dumps too early and is stoned to death by a bunch of crazy people with a desire to cash out on the culpability of the airline. The the pilot rode into town on gets hung as well and Delta will pay through the nose for the whole show.

    In two years, we’ll have congressional hearings, because airlines may find themselves forced to insure against their risk of doing any business in California. An automatic settlement fund surcharge (lets say $ 900 per seat per flight) could be added to compensate for the risk of being sued.

    Justification: In 2020 one of our airplanes dumped fuel and we got sued for 100 Million dollars in settlements, lawsuits filed on behalf of children. Usually we dump out over the ocean (!) and since that became known, we have been sued by groups which file lawsuits on behalf of fish. Wait for it!

    Mamamia! To hell in a handbasket we rush.

    • Jason … I actually know people who have closed their aviation businesses down because the excessive over-regulation in Kalyfornya makes it nearly impossible to operate without running afoul of some law or rule. Taxation make it impossible to make a decent ROI, too. I also know hoards of working people who have thrown up their hands and said … “enough!” Myself included.

      In 1970, when I showed up in northern CA, I thought I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I had. Thirty years later in 2000, happiness was Kalyfornya in my rear view mirror on I-10 at Blythe headed east. How one of the most beautiful States could turn itself into a cesspool in that thirty year period defies logic. Two words could define it, however … politicians and lawyers.

        • Have you SEEN the mainstream network television coverage of this incident? Last night, I watched a story about a “Town Hall” meeting, at which the local Latino community asserted that “these things always happen to communities of color.” Seriously.

          This story is ALL about politics inserting itself into the regulated operations of aircraft. And it ain’t the “Radical Right” that’s doing the aggitating, or filing meritless lawsuits.

          If AOC and the rest of her Marxist crowd achieve their OPENLY-STATED goals, there will be NO passenger aviation in America.

          That’s not hyperbole, and it’s not at all off-topic.

  4. Man Jason, you are on a role this morning. Again, exactly what I was thinking. Get rid of all airplanes (except mine of course) and we never have to worry about a fuel dump again. It’s brilliant. By the way, my grand kids are emotionally distraught because the kids in California who got dumped on are emotionally distraught and they want in on the law suit also.

  5. Some real tough guys on AVWeb.

    Was the question really of such a nature that there was absolutely no option other than to dump the fuel immediately?

    You read the comments that the Controller was not made aware that fuel dumping was in progress.
    I also listened to the ATC tapes and I could not discern that the emergency was of such a nature that proper procedures could not be followed to dump fuel over less populated areas.

    Also, the argument that the air is already so polluted is such a strawman argument.
    So because things are already bad we should just throw our hands in the air and continue.
    Or is this a case where “we need to rally to support our fellow pilots – the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ debate”?

    The investigation will ask a simple question, but that might lead to a deeper dive.
    The Q would be: Can you provide proof that the flight was in such danger that dumping of fuel at that point was an absolute requirement, or could the fuel have been dumped in a designated area upon request”. If the answer is YES witht he proof, then it should be sufficient to close the investigation.
    But if the answer is NO, then there could be trouble for the pilots and for their training regime in handling failures.

    Do you really think they handled this situation as good aviators, even considering a compressor stall?

  6. Do you really think you’re going to get a truthful answer to your question? Are you really that naive to believe you’re going to find the truth? There is no such thing as truth anymore. What rock have you been hiding under the last 11 1/2 years?

  7. Historically (past tense, according to the new doctrine) the accused never had the obligation to prove innocence, the burden of proof (up until now) has traditionally rested with the plaintiff.

    A good TV and nighly news drama may or may not qualify for a good court drama, my old, dusty law professor once said. Do fact finding first, he said. Dumb as I was, I listened.

    Again, I realize that I am referring to a concept in law (presumption of innocence) that used to be this way… until it got somehow turned around, for seemingly funky purposes.

    Was it smart to dump fuel too low and outside of a designated area? Is there any emergency that could have warranted early dumping over populated areas? Can plaintiff say with a straight face that someone pushed the dump-buttons with any INTENTION of hurting residents and especially THESE children?

    Who was on board the plane, able and authorized to make that decision? Did the aircraft have a technical history, giving the pilots reason to suspect a worse outcome if fuel wasn’t dumped immediately? More Q’s than A’s at this point.

    I am sure Delta will bend over backwards to settle this issue quickly and properly by throwing money in the general direction of the problem. Nobody needs this kind of accusation behind their company name and logo.

    How many passengers on board? What could have been the suspicions/ concerns of the pilots? Which alternatives did they consider or felt to have available? What does the OPS manual and SOP say? Thats questions the guys or gals with the 3 or 4 stripes and the airline must answer. Honestly- and to the best of everyones conscience. This is all very very factual, isn’t it?

    For as long as the opposite side claims that (1) the presumption of innocence is legally invalid and (2) litigates arbitrarily, primarily focused on financial gain and preferrably against anyone and anything that has to do with aviation, I’ll go on record as having said that a “we vs. them” perception is reasonable.

  8. Wow, some serious whining on this thread.
    First, to answer the FAA’s question: Captain: “In my opinion, based on the information available to me at the this was the safest course of action available.” Solves that issue.
    Second: what is the company training for this situation? Every company has policies and procedures taught repetitively in the sim every six months, what are Delta’s procedures for a V1 cut at max gross weight? That defines what this crew is “used to”. Likely, it is a quick lap through the fuel dump procedure and land at max normal landing weight. I seriously doubt that the sim procedure requires stepping through the steps we old graybeards had to use to ask the controller for a dump location and tell him/her how long we would be there. After all, sim time is expensive and cannot be wasted in frivolous items like driving to a dump area and going in circles for a while.
    Third: why did they dump in the first place if emergency return is so important? Again, training and company procedures. “Overweight” landings should never be common practice but conducted properly do not hurt the aircraft. In general, most airplanes handle a heavy weight landing just fine at touchdown rates of under 200-300fpm. In addition, most large aircraft land extremely nicely at heavier weights. In addition, they all have an overweight landing check in the maintenance manual that is less than 40 minutes for one mechanic. The 747 Classic, for example, overweight landing check took 40 minutes, 1 mechanic, start to finish and looked at 7 specific items.
    Bottom line, fuel dumping has and will continue to happen. Sure, the ECO minded folks will cringe and sob, the accountants will wail loudly, and the FAA might ask questions but it will continue. The question the PIC needs to answer is, was it necessary? Company procedures, company training, and evaluation of the current circumstances should be combined to make the choice. That choice, ultimately, is solely that of the PIC and while his/her final decision might be a point used for training, it should never, ever be chided because no one but him or her were sitting in that seat at the time.

  9. Vietnam troops were douched in the Agent Orange consistently and unknowingly. They lived in a contaminated environment through their hitch. Government tapped danced around refused to admit responsibility for many years. AO created real damage to humans, the habitat and animal life. More than fifty years later Vets are sill dying of cancer and other maladies. There may be a distant parallel with the Delta Flt. 89 fuel dump but the harmful effect, IMO, just cant be the same. Let’s appreciate that Delta Flt. 89 with 140 Pax and crew landed physically unharmed. Things could have been much worse. BTW: Move the airport to Palmdale.

    Thank you for letting me share.

  10. Ah, the drama of it all…Noble teachers & tiny innocents trembling with PTSD, indelibly scarred for life by the incredible mental trauma of (presumably) being misted by kerosene, which (apparently) somehow only touched their school while leaving the remaining urban expanse unscathed. The evil corporation and it’s robot minions who are so brutalized by their employer’s “corporate culture” (whatever that is) that they unthinkingly followed the deeply flawed procedures that a bumbling FAA (or somebody) had failed to correct (somehow) long ago. A swarm of salivating personal injury lawyer-orcs and a jury carefully selected to have no conception of reality. All played out on a modern Star Chamber stage where the voice of the accused will be rendered inaudible by teams of chanting special interest groups whose own voices are amplified by a media swaying to the tune of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”.

    Yes indeed, a show requiring the big bucket popcorn, with extra butter please.

  11. Everybody second guessing the pilots now. Interesting. Do they not understand that pilots have to assume in a situation like this that the only remaining engine might also be damaged? Which is worse – spraying a few people with kerosene or crash landing a jet into a schoolyard when the second engine fails..?

    • From JO 7110.65X
      Section 4. Fuel Dumping
      * INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS
      When information is received that an aircraft plans to dump fuel, determine the route and altitude it will fly and the weather conditions in which the operation will be conducted.
      * ROUTING
      Except when it is dumping fuel for emergency reasons, an aircraft in either VFR or IFR conditions may be requested to fly a different route.
      * ALTITUDE ASSIGNMENT
      If an aircraft is dumping fuel in IFR conditions, assign an altitude at least 2,000 feet above the highest obstacle within 5 miles of the route or pattern being flown.
      * SEPARATION MINIMA
      Separate known aircraft from the aircraft dumping fuel as follows:
      * IFR aircraft by one of the following:
      * 1,000 feet above it; or in accordance with Paragraph 4-5-1, Vertical Separation Minima, whichever is greater.
      * 2,000 feet below it.
      * 5 miles radar.
      * 5 miles laterally.
      * VFR radar‐identified aircraft by 5 miles and in accordance with Paragraph 5-6-1, Application.
      * INFORMATION DISSEMINATION
      * If you are in contact with an aircraft when it starts dumping fuel, inform other controllers and facilities which might be concerned. Facilities concerned must broadcast an advisory on appropriate radio frequencies at 3-minute intervals until the dumping stops.
      PHRASEOLOGY-
      ATTENTION ALL AIRCRAFT.
      FUEL DUMPING IN PROGRESS OVER (location) AT (altitude) BY (type aircraft) (flight direction).
      * Broadcast a terminating advisory when the fuel dumping operation is completed.
      PHRASEOLOGY-
      ATTENTION ALL AIRCRAFT.
      FUEL DUMPING OVER (location) TERMINATED.

  12. So now some teachers are experts in airline operations and can determine when certain aircraft “should never take off”? What is the basis for their determination? Did they have some clairvoyance that this particular aircraft on this particular day was going to have an engine experience a compressor stall?

  13. Well, the Jet-A wasn’t very flammable but this topic sure is 🙂

    Summarizing some of the main themes:

    – Those providing lessons in stoichiometry: kinda missed the point

    – Those who hate California: can’t help it and not my issue. From my perspective out here in the Midwest, though, sure feels like a case of everyone hating the pretty girl. And there’s the matter of Article II Section 1.

    – The main point: bacteria in your gut are distasteful but provide a necessary function. So does liability law, with the ambulance chasers as its most distasteful manifestation. A complex society needs a complete set of feedback signals to balance its many constituents, and boy is that process messy. But we pilots would do well to remember that we exist in a society. 14 CFR § 91.3 tells us how the FAA will judge our decision making relative to the FARs. It does not say that pilots are gods. After we land the plane safely and get our kudos from fellow pilots, the larger society can and should judge us by its standards.

    This case may well prompt Delta and the rest of the airline industry to revisit its guidelines on fuel dumping, and that may well be the proper outcome, ambulance chasing vermin notwithstanding.

    • “After we land the plane safely and get our kudos from fellow pilots, the larger society can and should judge us by its standards.”

      Ex post facto?

      The larger society can petition for a repeal of 91.3
      The FAA or Congress may comply. But that won’t obviate the PIC’s authority on an ex post facto basis. This horse already left that barn.

      By all means, let’s have a cabal of California school teachers re-write the FARs. With apologies to Louis Armstrong, what a wonderful world it will be.

  14. Okay, I’m going to ask a dumb question. I’ve never flown a big jet, but I am familiar with compressor stall, so here’s my question. If the engine experiences a shutdown due to compressor stall on an expedited climb out, can’t they lower the AOA and restart the engine? Returning to the departure airport would still be justified, but not under the expedited flight path that calls for fuel dumping over a heavily populated area at low altitude. Someone with big jet experience feel free to straighten me out.

    • Depends upon the severity. A strong enough compressor stall can break off compressor blades and then the engine eats itself and there is no restart.
      At the other end of the spectrum, a compressor stall can be mild enough that the engine doesn’t actually die. It just makes a bang and then resumes normal operation. So a restart is not required.
      I think the problem for the crew is in not knowing the extent of the damage. So the safe thing is to proceed as if you only have one good engine. But in this case that could have easily included a climb.

  15. Well, this topic made me sign up just to leave a reply.

    The crew did what they thought they had to do at the time. I am sure there was a discussion on the flight-deck as to where and how they would be dumping. If an investigation learns that there was an error, or perhaps a better outcome, then we all learn. However, they were now compromised with one engine out, had a duty to save the lives aboard and dumped it sounds within the regulations so not to injure others. Still, even if some gold-diggers postulate there was a better way, we have to be mindful that we never are able to “check all the boxes” and talk in absolutes. We, as living pilots, humble ourselves to the reality that we will never quite know all the options or events but commit to learning. I wonder if the motivations would be different if those teachers and families on the ground had loved ones aboard that plane. What would their trauma be then? Or if they were witness to a crash of that magnitude?

    I am upset today, I live in the left-wing, socialist-leaning state of Canada; BC. We just had our only transportation link for some to receive their life-giving medical appointments (some waiting months) hijacked by environmentalists this morning called “Extinction Rebellion”. No respect or consideration for the lives they hurt and they get away with it with no consequences. I am getting sick and tired of all the ignorance, ironically many times, conceived by academia these days; and then the entitlement for someone to get something from it? Where has personal integrity, responsibility, social consideration, or basic common sense, gone?