NTSB Subpoenas JFK Runway Incursion Crew After They Refuse Recorded Interviews


The NTSB has taken the rare step of subpoenaing the crew of an American Airlines Boeing 777 involved in a runway incursion at JFK Airport in mid-January. The crew provided written statements but has refused to be interviewed by investigators because their statements will be recorded for later transcription. Controllers agreed to the recorded interviews. The Allied Pilots Association, which represents the pilots, is backing the crew’s decision, saying the recording requirement is a relatively new wrinkle in the investigation process. The NTSB says the recording is necessary to ensure the complete accuracy of the crew statements. “As a result of the flight crew’s repeated unwillingness to proceed with a recorded interview, subpoenas for their testimony have been issued,” the NTSB said in its preliminary report on the incident.

The APA said in a statement that NTSB interviews have historically been done with a stenographer or with the investigators taking their own notes and it believes the recording requirement is counterproductive. “We firmly believe the introduction of electronic recording devices into witness interviews is more likely to hinder the investigation process than it is to improve it,” the union said in its statement. “Not only may the recording of interviews lead to less candid responses from those witnesses who may choose to proceed under such requirements, but the existence and potential availability of interview recordings upon conclusion of an investigation will tend to lead many otherwise willing crew members to elect not to participate in interviews at all. Either outcome would not serve to advance the goal of conducting effective investigations in order to promote aviation safety.”

Meanwhile, the prelim confirms information previously gleaned from ATC tapes and ADS-B-based flight trackers. The 777 crew crossed Runway 4L without clearance as a Delta Air Lines 737 began its takeoff roll after receiving clearance. The potential conflict triggered the Airport Surface Detection Equipment, Model X (ASDE-X) and the controller canceled the Delta flight’s takeoff clearance. The Delta crew hit the brakes at 100 knots after the 777 had already cleared the runway and the closest the two aircraft came was about 1,400 feet.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. If the NTSB has the authority to issue subpoenas to flight crews as part of their investigations, why would the pilot’s union formally support the American crew’s decision not to be recorded? Surely the union must be aware of the NTSB’s subpoena power, which essentially compels the witness to be interviewed and recorded. Either way, the NTSB is going to get it done. I can only think it was an effort to stall and, further, the American flight crew is looking like the guilty party. Guess we’ll see!

  2. I fail to see the difference between a stenographer who will transcribe every word the pilots say and a video recording, unless they are concerned about their facial expressions being recorded. The pilot’s attorneys can still move to strike certain comments or responses from the official findings, which will still be a written document. I suspect the NTSB is adopting recordings for most of their investigations to better retain the accuracy of the events. I wonder if fifth amendment rights apply in these situations?

    • Exactly what I was wondering as well. NTSB does not have a good record of keeping conversations or voice recorder items confidential. I believe the “Pilots bill of rights” explicitly says that anything you say can and will be held against you. What I am wondering is how the subpoenas work. I know it can compel you to show up but can it make you respond to any questions? As John Mc. asks does the fifth amendment rights apply here? And how about having an attorney present?

    • Since this isn’t a criminal investigation, no, the 5th doesn’t apply.
      However, I too think that this is a severe intrusion of the pilot’s privacy rights. Imo, even the CVR is an unacceptable intrusion into privacy rights.
      Especially since governments and their agencies don’t have a very good track record of keeping such recordings confidential, and also often abuse them for nefarious reasons, they should not be allowed to produce or keep audio/visual recordings of any kind.

      • To E., A CVR recording is an unacceptable intrusion into privacy – you’re kidding, right?

        I would say that an airline captain or first officer relinquishes this so-called “privacy” when a) they voluntarily accept their terms of employment and b) take their seat in the cockpit and, in doing so, become responsible for the safety of others seated behind them.

  3. I”m scratching my head as to why the NTSB is even involved at this point. The FAA clearly has jurisdiction on incursion issues not involving contact or damage. I would not be surprised if the no talk issue is because of this. If the NTSB were involved in every near miss in all industries, they would need 1000 board members. Just wondering.

      • Thanks Matt, ya, looking at the 830, it MAY be a reportable incident, but as i mentioned, the FAA would be all over this first, just seem NTSB rather jumping gun, incursions are nothing new, and for the most part the FAA has been trying to mitigate this issue for decades. We have regs, procedures, etc, so at min, the Board should be all over the FAA on this, not already investigating something we know is a issue already. Thanks for steering me to 830, forgot about its existence. Side note, don’t see big headlined on ntsb investigating the FedEx overfly of the SW on takeoff. Wow, listen to the atc, how many holes in this near miss? thks again. carl

  4. Back in 2015 Delta and Southwest nearly came together at Midway. Southwest was cleared for takeoff but Delta thought the clearance was for them and started rolling too, on a crossing runway. The controller ordered Delta to stop and Southwest aborted too. It was a close call but the NTSB conducted their investigation without requiring either crew to submit to a recorded interview. Both CVRs were also overridden.