Trumped-Up JFK Emergency?

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Last week's emergency landing at New York's JFK offers yet another example of how a group of pilots—when presented with the same scenario and risk factors—may make diametrically different decisions. The distilled summary: An American Airlines 767 enroute into JFK from Los Angeles arrived to be assigned runway 22L as the landing runway. The wind was out of 310 at 22 knots, gusting to 34 knots—a direct crosswind that might have had a slight tailwind component.

The Captain refused the landing runway and, when ATC declined to assign 31R, he declared an emergency and landed on it anyway. Here's a condensed clip on the incident.

It's illuminating for several of reasons. It's an example of what most pilots and controllers have seen before: a "sort of" or "paper" emergency. Second, regardless of who you think was right or wrong, the incident shows that the person sitting in the left seat is sometimes confronted with judgment calls for which there is no easy answer, even though the Captain is vested with the ultimate final authority on how the flight is conducted. It may be good to be King, but it's not always easy. Worth noting is that there's more going on here than most of us know and, as the Gunny likes to say, there will be consequences. Last, this incident starkly reveals how our air transport system is a tug of war between efficiency and safety.

Since March, JFK has had 31L closed for upgrades and this bollixes up the airport's acceptance rate. The airlines were asked to scale their operations accordingly. I don't know if they have done that or if this was in factor in the May 4 incident. (See above: consequences.) Either way, ATC will configure the airport to suit its concerns, which usually relate to throughput and noise restrictions. Pilot concerns about crosswind limits? Not so much. So it becomes a little bit of a blood sport in a situation like this. If crews keep gutting out landing in a crosswind to the limits of man and machine, controllers will happily let them do it until someone says—enough.

The Captain of American Flight 2 decided he wasn't going to accept a 34-knot crosswind. According to what data I could find, Boeing says 40 knots is the max recommended crosswind component for a 767 on a dry runway. If someone else can dispute that, let me hear from you. Also, American's op specs may call for something lower and those are hard limits. Either way, the Captain decided it wasn't safe and informed the tower he would declare an emergency if he wasn't given 31R. The controller seemed to note this as if he'd take it under advisement and the situation blossomed from there. Remember, the controller is thinking about separation and his flow plan, the pilot is worried about cramming that thing on the runway in a gusty crosswind.

After the emergency was declared, the controller evidently thought it was a "gentleman's" emergency in which he would be allowed to vector the airplane back around for 31R in a more less orderly fashion. The Captain, on the other hand, clearly understood that under emergency authority, he could do what he needed to and seemed to inform the surprised sounding controller of his maneuvering plan. He told ATC—he didn't ask, he told ATC—to clear the runway. American Flight 2 was landing on it. This is about as compelling an example of execution of command authority as you are likely to hear.

Listen to the tape to the end and you can clearly hear the controller's response when the flight clears the runway and asks for taxi instruction. He sounds irritated to me. So let the second guessing begin.

Over on PPRuNe opinions are divided. Some think the Captain should have slipped into the flow and let the controller work out an approach for 31R that would minimize chaos for everyone else. If the flight was so low on fuel as to require unconditional maneuvering, why didn't the crew declare this sooner? And if the crew couldn't handle a 34-knot crosswind as just a day at the office, what are they doing flying into Kennedy? Others cheered the Captain, believing he determined that an unsafe condition existed and acted to correct it. End of story.

I don't have enough experience in this realm to offer an opinion on the righteousness of the Captain's call. Even if I did, I'm not sure I would, because I wasn't in the seat. Nonetheless, I offer a tip of the hat to any skipper who pulls the plug in a situation where system-think has forced go-along-get-along behavior to a point beyond safe limits. Right or wrong, he made a clear, unambiguous decision and acted upon it. It sometimes takes that kind of decisiveness to cut through the fence between pilot/crew/passenger priorities and air traffic control priorities. The two are sometimes at cross purposes.

When they are, someone has to say as much. This Captain did and that's what defines command.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We are accepting occasional guest blogs. If you're interested, contact me via e-mail.

Comments (188)

I have read Mr. Bertorelli's comments in the past that have left me with the feeling he knows what's best for the aviator and his opinion is not to be questioned. However, I have to say that in my opinion he reported the American 2, R31R issue appropriately and with no bias. All in all an excellent review of a situation the British would refer to as a bit sticky.

Posted by: Bill Edmondson | May 8, 2010 3:17 PM    Report this comment

Great lesson in emergency authority. No bent metal so I guess you can't fault the guy too much - but I wouldn't want to be writing the report on that one! I know that winglets on the 737 drops the crosswind component substantially - don't know on the 767.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 8, 2010 7:18 PM    Report this comment

I dont think I would call this a lesson in emergency authority.Each pilot in command has the authority to deny a clearance without declaring an emergency.I will spare you the details but its there in the regs, trust me.While the captain had safety in mind, I dont think you can whip out that emergency card for something that is FAR short of an actual emergency.Furthermore,what right did they have to tell the controllers to clear everything out of the way? Once again there was no emergency, and aircraft with emergencies declaring emergencies shall be given priority, however, I just can't see this as a justifiable emergency. A bigger problem exists here. If the FAA lets this slide, every monkey see monkey doo out there, will be doing the same. I can only imagine what chaos would ensue from pilots who dont like a clearance declaring emergencies and doing what ever they wish. Another point I would like to bring up here is the fact that we are talking about airline pilots here,the "professionals".I would hope they have enough common sense and understanding of the regulations to understand that what they were about to do is wholly unjustifiable and a clear violation of the regulations. Unfortunately, grounds for certificate action will most certainly be sought in this matter. Even my students understand the difference between needing to declare an emergency, and denying a clearance because of safety. It will be interesting to see what will come of this.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 8, 2010 9:31 PM    Report this comment

INHO this is blatant abuse of power. He could have held, diverted or just denied the 22L and requested to join the back of the 31R queue. When I am on approach, perhaps even cleared to land, I don't want some cowboy unhappy with his sequence number to dive ahead of me (unless it is an honest-to-God emergency). Were any other aircraft diverted, delayed, or vectored around because of this fake emergency. Maybe just a delayed take-off ? If so, I think they should go for civil damages for fuel burnt and time lost. Obviously, I would feel safer knowing the FAA takes appropriate action against such cowboys. I even expect AA to show disapproval.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | May 9, 2010 4:50 AM    Report this comment

Before you pass too much judgment on the guy, you might want to wiki the Continental 1404 crash. If I were trying to defend the flight crew - that's where I would start - I think that alone and the fact the flight ended safely makes a revocation unlikely - but who knows. Now to me, 34kts seems well doable by a professional flight crew, but I want to know more before passing judgment.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 9, 2010 7:12 AM    Report this comment

Judgement can already be passed, sir. I would never wiki anything for factual information, especially in this case. But a ntsb report summary suggests they lost control on take off in a gusty conditions with a hint of possible break problems. I have seen a light single land and take off in said conditions on quite a few occasions, from the pilots seat mind you. And I have seen lots of youtube vids on airliner crosswind landings. While CAL1404 was regrettable, one could also say that if the conditions were not safe, that same crew would have the same right to refuse the clearance to depart the runway with said crosswind. If you will kindly have a look at denver international airport diagram, you will see that there are north south east west runways. That gusty crosswind was also a gusty headwind on a couple runways!!! Acting stupidly to avoid a situation where other pilots had not used proper adm is unforgiveable. The lesson to be learned in the aforementioned ntsb report is simply, excercise your PIC authority. If they would have done this...maybe that situation might have had a better ending? We will never know for sure.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 9, 2010 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Okay, skip wiki and go to the NTSB report - it's just a lot longer and harder to read.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 9, 2010 10:11 AM    Report this comment

The most exciting arrival I ever sat through in an airliner was at JFK. I don't know what runway we were on, but it was definitely a wild ride. I spotted the flight crew in the terminal, and asked if they had fun with the crosswind. The reply I got: "35 knots!" That was in a 757. As far as I'm concerned, that, and FAR 91.3(a), end the discussion.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 9, 2010 9:51 PM    Report this comment

This time it's crosswind, next time the guy is a bit high, or fast, or maybe he prefers the shorter taxi... no probs : he declares an emergency and lines up for short final on his rwy of choice. Now, imagine I am on final for that runway. I feel inclined to declare an emergency for fear a go-around is a wee bit dangerous, can he or can I ? Or maybe I should declare an emergency for the left of the rwy ? And whaddayano, all of a sudden everbody is on a constant emergency and the FAA can't even cope with the deluge of paperwork. No thanks, he can have the can of worms that he opened.

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | May 10, 2010 3:24 AM    Report this comment

The Captain said he was unable 22R and told the controller what he needed. There wasn't time for chatting as JFK is one of the busiest. No one knows what his fuel was after LAX-JFK and I'm sure the wind came up during the 5 or 6 hours he was enroute. There isn't time to wait to be sequenced for the runway you require by Ops Specs. I did it once at ORD and it took over 20 minutes to get a runway into the wind instead of a direct crosswind, which was out of limits landing either east or west. This will happen more often with less fuel being carried, runways not favoring the controllers best flow, and aircraft limits not known by the controller until he clears you for something you can't legally do. You might be able to make it, but no one in the back bought a ticket for a test/certification flight. If he dings a wing or worse, you "experts" will be the first to crucify the pilot who does push the envelope. AA is also being looked at very closely by the FAA and I'm sure every pilot is watching every reg and procedure even more closely to ensure safety! Funny how the first guy is vilified and then the rest snap to attention and realize they aren't always legal for what the contoller is clearing them to do. I also worked in the tower for a year at ORD with the finest controllers on earth, but they are trying to do a job, which must be agreed to and the clearance accepted by, the pilot, to make it work. Let the captain be a captain. Fine job, Sir!

Posted by: JON JEFFERIES | May 10, 2010 4:14 AM    Report this comment

I was in a similar situation while training for private pilot at Sanford. It has three parallel runways 9-27 and one perpendicular 18-36 intersecting the other three. The wind was from south with gust from 25 to 30 kts the maximum cross wind component for my little Pioneer 200 is 20 Kts. I was given clearance for 9L. I explained that the cross wind was over my/airplane ability. The tower told me to fly a waiting pattern while they look for an alternate airport, because 18 was closed for maintenance. After an hour the sun was coming down and I had no experience landing at night. Then I told the tower that if they do not give clearance for 18 I would declare an emergency as I have no time to go to other airport not the ability to land on 9L. They repeated me 3 times that I was assuming responsibility for landing in 18 which was closed. After I agreed, they stop operations in the other 3 runways. I landed safely. The facts: I was a student pilot (in solo flight). I had enough fuel to fly the patter for a good amount of time. The wind was over the POI indications. I declared the emergency after one hour in the pattern and with sunset approaching when I had no more options. I was grateful for the nice talk with the controller. Just another story, very similar yet very different.

Posted by: Jose Manuel de Caso | May 10, 2010 5:32 AM    Report this comment

The pilot in command is the pilot in command. Do not accept a clearance with which YOU are not comfortable. Accidents happen when one's level of confidence exceeds one's level of skill, or the capability of the aircraft.

Was there a better choice from the standpoint of not disrupting the traffic flow at JFK? Perhaps, but I wasn't there, and I dare say none of the other commenters were there either.

When your choices are limited and your path is clear then declaring an emergency is a good choice. On the other hand "unable" is a very effective way to tell a controller that the clearance issued is not acceptable and you are requesting another option.

Much of the exchange between the pilots and controllers comes down to authority, and it's pretty apparent that NYC area controllers think the run the show. That's been my experience flying in the area over the last 30 years and 14000 hours. Rent "Pushing Tin" sometime and you might get part of the picture.

Posted by: Ted Stanley | May 10, 2010 6:29 AM    Report this comment

It sounded to me that if the controller had handled it differently, the pilot would have handled it differently. That if the controller had said something like, "Turn x for sequencing to 31R..." there would have been no need for all the bruhaha. The controller showed no sense of urgency. Plus one vote for the captain.

Posted by: TOM COSTANZA | May 10, 2010 6:30 AM    Report this comment

It is one thing to deny the clearance, it is different thing to start making up the new clearances.

The pilot was right to refuse to land in strong crosswind. Then the pilot should have requested alternate runway. The ATC would have worked out safe passage to the end of the queue on the other runway. Now if pilot would calculate, that his fuel reserves are too low to fly the queue, then it is time for the pilot to declare emergency / priority and it is totally unrelated to the fact that he refused to land on strong crosswind in the first place.

About the situation described by Jose Manuel de Caso, the controller can never issue clearances for closed runways and landing on them is always on pilots responsibility. All that ATC can do is to make sure there is no conflicting traffic. But ATC can never clear you to land on closed runway nor stop you to land on it after you have understood the responsibilities involved.

Posted by: REIN KADASTIK | May 10, 2010 6:53 AM    Report this comment

If you get all the hard facts the captain's decision can be easier to understand.

The crosswind limit for the 767 in the American Airlines Operating Manual is 29 knots Max Demonstrated. It doesn't matter what it says in the Boeing, Delta, United, or MS Flight Sim manual. The Captain is required to follow the American 767 Operating Manual. In the simulator we practice our emergencies with the maximum allowed crosswind. It is a challenge to land and stay on the runway. If there is an alternative to making an unsafe or illegal approach it is the Captain's responsiblility to make the right decision.

The ATC controllers at JFK have been working to keep the flow at peak levels. The Captain was working to keep the passnegers safe and operate within the regulations. The ATC controller does not, and should not, know the crosswind limits of the 767.

Quick story: Two weeks ago we were in DCA flying to MIA. The airport was using RWY01 with an 8kt tailwind and moderate rain. They were using RWY01 because the flow will accomodate more aircraft. We told them that we would not be able to use RWY01 and would be requiring RWY19. The tailwind limit for the 737 is 10 knots. With wet conditions on a short runway we decided that it would not be safe to try RWY01. We waited for 45 minutes to get an opening. I stand by that decision and would support anyone that made a decision to enhance safety.

My hat is off to him and others that do not accept illegal/unsafe clearances.

Posted by: Mark Anderson | May 10, 2010 8:11 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps before burning this Captain at the stake we should wait for a report from the NTSB/FAA on exactly what happened. From what I heard on the tape it appears the Captain declared an emergency to avoid a sequencing delay in getting his runway of choice, but there very well could be more to the story.

I don't know how much of the transcript was edited out, but I heard no request by the controller (and no effort by the pilot) to describe the nature of the emergency -- nor any of the other standard SOS info (fuel/souls on board, etc.) Nor, apparently, was the aircraft met by emergency crews/vehicles on the ground, which is also customary when a pilot declares an emergency -- especially if the nature of the emergency is unknown.

As we all know, mishaps rarely result from a single cause. Pilots train their entire careers learning to take timely, decisive action to break the 'accident chain.' While I agree with Paul this incident illustrates a pilot doing so in a most definitive fashion, given the indications of the pilot's intent in this case I'm not so sure I would hold it up as exemplary.

Ultimately, the purpose of declaring an emergency is to get assistance from ATC, not to bend ATC to the pilot's will.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | May 10, 2010 8:12 AM    Report this comment

I think Mr. Bertorelli did a fine job of reporting this event. What's not clear here is AA's fuel status at the time of declaring an emergency, or previous conversations with the approach controllers about fuel status (such as declaring "min fuel"). It's possible the crew already had discussed this with the approach controller, and perhaps the information didn't get passed along to the tower guy. We certainly don't know from this segment of the event.

Perhaps also the Captain was new to the aircraft, or had just come off vacation. Any number of things can contribute to a pilot's or otherwise. Those aircraft limitations are usually set by test pilots during certification. Ultimately, the Captain was quite correct in doing what he did, although to just run his own pattern for landing at a place like JFK leads me to believe his fuel situation had to be dire!

The controllers had to then move aircraft and protect the airspace, but that can be a challenge on a very busy day when it's hard to to get a word in edgewise...even from the controller. I believe the controller here simply wanted to keep the airspace safe whoile he worked with the "emergency aircraft" in issuing the 180 degree heading.

My hat's off to both the controller and the crew for keeping anybody from bending any metal!

Posted by: Jeffrey Munzell | May 10, 2010 8:25 AM    Report this comment

BTW, there is plenty of blame to go around on both sides (based on the edited transcript). Once the Captain of the jet declared an emergency it was completely wrong of the controller to make assumptions about the Captain's motives.

Just as pilots should know the purpose of declaring and emergency is to get assistance, controllers should know once declared, their job is to provide it -- period.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | May 10, 2010 8:26 AM    Report this comment

What this audio clip doesn't include is the conversation this crew had with the NY TRACON. I'd lay money that they communicated their need for 31R and the controller responded by telling them they'd have to get at the end of the (very long) line for 22L, including arrivals that weren't even in NY's airspace. In other words, they'd hold until they'd have to divert. And then when they divert and refuel and go back to JFK, instead of getting priority as a diversion, they'd be holding again for 31R. So why would the crew want to talk to the TRACON again? They know they'll be treated as a "paper" emergency and won't get the priority an emergency should receive.

While this seems pretty high-handed, it's pretty sad that the options available to this pilot, if he wished to land his flight at his intended destination, were to accept a direct crosswind of 35 gusting or declare an emergency to get the appropriate runway and fly his own traffic pattern.

Posted by: Katrina L | May 10, 2010 8:27 AM    Report this comment

I think the pilots should be fired and their certificates be revoked. When I plan a trip I check the weather and notams. If I can't arrive at the airport with the facilities that they have available then I either don't make the trip or I go to another airport. I would never consider landing on a runway that was under construction. If for some reason this was my only option, which it would not be, I would want to give them plenty of time to remove personal and equipment from the runway I would also have someone drive the runway to verify the runway was clear. You just don't depart for an airport that the runway you need is closed.
It is one thing to not except a clearance but to be a cowboy and demand to land on a potentially unsafe runway and endanger all the passengers is inexcusable. A lot of the comments act like this was his only choice, but had choices for the previous 4 hours or so.
I don't buy into the fact that since other airplanes were landing on the runway he should have been able to, obviously he knows his pilot skills are lacking. I think his judgment skills are lacking also.

Posted by: Mike Headrick | May 10, 2010 8:46 AM    Report this comment

They didn't head for an airport where the one runway they needed was closed. 31L was and is closed. They landed on 31R. With a 29-knot ops manual limit - which carries the force of law for the pilot - he *could not* land on 22 legally with the wind as reported at arrival.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 10, 2010 8:56 AM    Report this comment

Comment by the previous writer Mike Headrick shows the level of ignorance as to what airline crews face everday at busy airports. He talks of having 4 hours to make a choice on which runway to use? We review weather from the cockpit constantly but realize that winds increase and decrease in intensity throughout any given day. Also, 31R was not utilized for arrivals, but for departures. He also suggests that the pilot be fired and certificates revoked? Give me a break - that crew acted within their level of responsibility and everyone was safe. What if they had attempted to land and scraped a wingtip with winds over the American Airlines Op Specs, then what? Sentenced to death?

Go back and fly your computer at home and leave the real flying to us professionals.

Posted by: Brent Koth | May 10, 2010 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Could the controller have specifically stated, as soon as he heard the crew stated an INTENTION to declare an emergency, "fly runway heading for now and I'll get you back around for 31R?" Sure, he could have, and that would have been nice. But he instantly and without protest said, "I'll pass it along." He didn't have time to go into a 2 minute oratory on the finer points of changing a runway assignment and all the coordination involved.

Emergency authority allowed the captain to deny the clearance, and depending on the severity of the unstated nature of his emergency, maybe he was justified in just telling ATC to get everyone out of his way and landing immediately. But if the extent of the “emergency” was solely, "I don't think it's safe to land on the runway for which I just accepted a landing clearance", the prudent thing would have been to either indicate the severity of the emergency, or to say something like, "Ya know, with that crosswind, we're unable the 22s. Sorry, but we're gonna need 31R today." and then take his tour of the city while he gets passed to departure and then approach while getting vectors to 31R, with ATC ensuring safety and maintaining as orderly a flow as possible. Unfortunately, presented with the facts that we have been presented, and admittedly not knowing what else was discussed previously with approach or in the cockpit, this looks like a case of a captain springloaded to push a point, to the extent where poor judgment was exercised.

Posted by: Don Desfosse | May 10, 2010 9:03 AM    Report this comment

It would seem that there might be some confusion about what runways were serviceable. It was 31L which was closed and 31R, a 10,000' runway was still serviceable. In flight planning, even with a predicted adverse wind condition, there would still be a legal runway available in 31R. After a 5 hour flight across 4 time zones I would be ready to park the tin as quickly and as safely as possible. In 17,000 hours as a freighter I have on occasion made it clear to controllers what I needed and invariably they have placed my needs above theirs. The crew played the hand they had and if it trumped the controllers it was as it should be.

Posted by: Stan DeLong | May 10, 2010 9:09 AM    Report this comment

The FAA is doing the right thing here by investigating the incident. The controller notified the pilot that the request to land on 31R was being "past along", which I interpret to mean that the request needed to be coordinated with other controllers and worked into the traffic flow. In the meantime, the pilot was told to fly runway heading. If the emergency was declared because the pilots where UNWILLING to wait for proper coordination and vectors, then this was an abuse of their PIC authority. However, if they were UNABLE to wait (for reasons that can't be determined from the transcript), then the emergency decleration was appropriate. We'll soon see.....

Posted by: MARTIN SCHWARTZ | May 10, 2010 9:11 AM    Report this comment

The American Captain did the right and correct thing to a controller focusing only on efficiency. He should have not had to declare an emergency only be vector around until there was a spot to put him on the runway of his choice. Having flown in and out of all the New York Airports and given the same circumstances with the winds as reported I would have done the same and dealt with the consequences later knowing that my passengers, crew and equipment were safe at the gate.

Posted by: JAMES SMITH | May 10, 2010 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Mike Headrick: The captain did not choose to land on the runway under construction (31L), but the parallel runway (31R). I'd postpone harsh judgment until all of the facts are in.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | May 10, 2010 9:22 AM    Report this comment

The issue to me is what was the emergency?

Posted by: David McCowan | May 10, 2010 9:23 AM    Report this comment

Doesn't it seem that the initial communications were with one pilot and the subsequent ones with another? Perhaps a first officer then the captain. The first pilot seemed kind of nervous with the initial request. I can hear it now..." Tell them we're declaring an emergency!" Oh boy...

Posted by: JOHN KAZICKAS | May 10, 2010 9:24 AM    Report this comment

Unless the captain was bingo fuel and could not make an alternate, he had no emergency. LaGuardia is a stone's throw away, he could have landed there. He could have requested a hold until his desired runway was open. An emergency is defined as "the plane won't stay in the air anymore and it's coming down now". As others have said, he could have refused the controller's instruction. This is no different than pilots refusing cruising altitudes because of ice.

Posted by: Dan Peters | May 10, 2010 9:28 AM    Report this comment

We simply don't yet have all the necessary information available to us to accurately critique either controller or pilot. But unless some as-yet unknown additional conditions predicated the urgency of action the pilot took to land on the rwy of his choice, then at the very least a failure to communicate existed, and that failure may very well be attributable to both pilot-crew and ATC. I strongly recommend we quit criticising crew and ATC and EACH OTHER until we get the "rest of the story".

Posted by: George Horn | May 10, 2010 9:32 AM    Report this comment

I can tell most of you haven't sat in the Captain's seat. All the above leaves more questions than answers. How long had they held with in bound delays? How many miles of extended vectors while dragging flaps and burning fuel. Did he have to decided whether to declare an emergency and land on 22 with the risk of a go-a-round on minimum fuel? If he just landed on 22 and dinged a wing tip I can guarantee you the FAA would be all over the Captain. Remember the 707 that NY approach vectored until it ran out of fuel and landing in the Long Island Sound. The controllers do a great job, but sometimes their butt is just not in the seat. You get paid to make the correct decision not argue with controllers.

Posted by: Sherman Chaplin | May 10, 2010 9:43 AM    Report this comment

Katrina: I was able to find the comms with approach on liveatc (search their forums). 22 was acceptable up until the time tower gave a wind check. Like everyone else here, we don't know the fuel considerations, but it sounds to me like this was (at least partially) a "political" emergency.

Posted by: Marc Olson | May 10, 2010 9:49 AM    Report this comment

I stand corrected about which runway was under construction. I still don't see how this was an emergency.

Posted by: Mike Headrick | May 10, 2010 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Sherman and George, I think everyone here agrees that this is all speculation since no one here knows all the details. We're arguing the hypothetical situation of declaring an emergency if the fuel and mechanical operation of the airplane were in nominal condition. I think everyone agrees that the Captain should not have attempted the crosswind landing. We just feel that there MAY have been alternatives. I feel that I can refuse a controller's instruction without declaring an emergency. I hear the term "unable" frequently on the radio, and have used it myself once in icing conditions. Sherman, I sit in the Captain's seat everytime I fly!

Posted by: Dan Peters | May 10, 2010 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Seems that things at Idyllwild (all right, JFK) have come a long way since 1958 as described in "Jousting Egos" at...
...or maybd not.

Posted by: Paul Niquette | May 10, 2010 10:06 AM    Report this comment

I think it's really easy to Monday morning QB the PIC. Bottom line is he was there, in the seat, with peoples lives in his hands. The controller was behind a desk. I agree that the pilot seemed a bit quick to move from "give us 31 or we'll declare" to "ok we are declaring". The controller was complying with the PIC's request, but the controller's statement "fly runway heading for now" didn't convey this to the PIC, so he pushed the issue. Something like what was previously mentioned "fly heading X for rwy 31R" would have made it clear to the pilot that "OK buddy I'm helping you out - give me a minute to get things lined up for ya." This will be an interesting case study in the use of PIC authority and what defines an emergency.

Posted by: a b | May 10, 2010 10:08 AM    Report this comment

I vote for the PIC ! He did the correct thing. Having to be resequenced and being punted out to hinterlands to wait an hour or more later with no fuel is a recipe for disaster ( assume he was light on fuel since he was probably bucking a high pressure system behind the front and most airlines are tight on fuel reserves due to cost). Best to declare an emergency if the situation gets untenable. Unable is your friend. I was amazed at the repeated attempts for ATC to continue vectoring after the pilot had informed him of their intention/corrective action. ZNY JFK controllers are a really tough crowd. ZJX ZOA ZTL have been my biggest pains (usually the day shift).

Posted by: keith moore | May 10, 2010 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Brian, and others:
The FAA requires Boeing to demonstrate a crosswind capability that it a percentage of stall speed. It is listed in manuals as Max Demonstrated Crosswind. Each airline then uses the figure as they see fit. Some make it an airline limit, others don't. The FAA sees each airline manual as the LAW for that airline. IMHO a 767 being sent for "vectors" in the NY area is in an emergency condition at 7500 FOB.

Posted by: Ned Dolan | May 10, 2010 10:31 AM    Report this comment

FAR 91.3(b) states that for an inflight emergency requiring IMMEDIATE ACTION, the pic may deviate...TO THE EXTENT REQUIRED to meet that emergency. Although we're not privy to the full extent of the previous conversation if any between AAL2 and the TRACON, don't know the fuel state in low altitude time remaining, and don't know how long the pilots expected to be vectored while waiting to get in line for 31R, it nonetheless seems that the pilot had other options. He was absolutely correct to refuse the landing clearance, and the controller correctly adjusted his flow based on this, clearly intending to work AAL2 into 31R when possible. Unless the pilot had a reasonable expectation that the time involved would cut dangerously into his remaining fuel, he should have accepted this adjustment without insisting that he was going to land right away on 31R. So IMHO, everything depends on how much fuel was onboard, and how much did the pilot expect this reserve to be utilized? The public doesn't know the answer to either of these two questions.

Posted by: Dean Brown | May 10, 2010 10:42 AM    Report this comment

I appreciate the pilot letting ATC know who's really in charge. One of the best lessons in aviation is, [I]"Bottom line son, that controller is drinking a cup of coffee at zero feet and zero knots ... you are ultimately in charge of your aircraft and need to act accordingly."[/I]

However, with that said, didn't the AA pilot have enough gas to get vectored around or hold for a few minutes without needing an IMMEDIATE turn and landing to the other runway?

Posted by: K C | May 10, 2010 10:51 AM    Report this comment

It sounded like in the beginning of the ATC recording that the localizer for 22L was not working. Could that have been a factor in the CA's decision? I don't know what the wx was (other than wind) at the time of the emergency.

Like everyone else, I wasn't in the left seat and don't have all of the details. Based on what we have heard, I don't understand why the CA didn't simply state that he was "unable" to land on 22L, and then accept vectors to land on 31R.

I'm not passing judgment on the CA, I'm just curious.

Posted by: David Brown | May 10, 2010 10:54 AM    Report this comment

I agree that the pilot did the right thing in refusing the crosswind runway, however, was there an immeatate need to land? The captain certainly did not make this clear in his tranmissions. I will withhold judgement until the investigation is complete. Ray...ATC Retired

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 10, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

I see a lot of arm chair/lap top pilots asking for this Captain's certificate!
We don't know all the details yet. The Captain declaring emergency must be given highest priority. There is no interpretation here. He or she would have to deal with the use of emergency authority later.
So all you Monday morning quarterbacks, go back and play with your Microsoft Flight Simulators. Let real pilots fly real airplanes!

Captain Ross "Rusty" Aimer (UAL Ret.)
Aviation Experts, LLC

Posted by: Ross Aimer | May 10, 2010 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I think the only valid conclusion that can be drawn from the available information is that the air transportation network in the USA is a little overstressed. There are more flights than there are always places to put them. If flights were restricted to a number that would make sequencing easier and delays less frequent people would complain about lack of service and airlines would say we were working under capacity.

Posted by: robert miller | May 10, 2010 11:16 AM    Report this comment

The PIC declare an EMERGENCY not an URGENCY situation. ATC should have giving priority immediately without argument. ATC should not decide whether it is or is not a "paper" emergency. They can argue that through paperwork when everyone is safe on the ground. There are rules and they should be respected.

Some people here define an emergency as a situation involving catastrophic mechanical issues including lack of fuel. An emergency occurs anytime a safe outcome to a flight is not sure. Trying to land right around the limits of max crosswind is a throw not a positive decision with known positive outcome as in gusting situations the limits can be suddenly exceeded while landing.

This was not an American Eagle captain; this was an American Airlines B767 captain. He did not get to that stage without understanding that a significant amount of paperwork would be attached to his decision and he still preferred the paperwork to putting the lives of the passengers in jeopardy. Well done.

Posted by: Flying Bug | May 10, 2010 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Several years ago I was flying a 757 into EWR. After extending the landing gear we had an unsafe nose gear indication. We went around, declared the emergency and worked the problem.

After we were satisfied we had a down and locked nosegear we told approach we could go back to the airport, that we were minimum fuel (4,000 lbs.) and needed to land immediately.

Their response: NY Approach tried to vector us behind traffic making us #16 for the airport. We kindly reminded them that we were now direct for the airport, that we had already declared the emergency and we were going to land. Fuel remaining: 3,300 lbs!

FOCUS: It is the Pilot's job to FLY THE AIRCRAFT, and the controller's job to SEPARATE TRAFFIC. The controller never makes the decision on what weather conditions we can fly in. NEVER.

Posted by: Brent Koth | May 10, 2010 11:20 AM    Report this comment

I'll be curious to hear about the nature of the emergency.

Certainly you have the right to declare and proceed as PIC, however he created additional risk for everyone else when ignoring instructions from ATC.

Let's hope for the crews sake this was a true emergency.

Posted by: SHAWN KNIGHT | May 10, 2010 11:43 AM    Report this comment

Cooperation between flight crews and ATC is definately what makes the system work. American declared a bogus "Emergency" so he wouldn't have to be "inconvenienced" by being re-sequenced for 31R. Did the PIC think about the inconvenience incurred by the flight on final for 22, who's clearence was cancelled and sent on runway heading for re-sequencing, or the flight who had been cleared onto 22 and had already crossed the hold line when his clearence was cancelled. That flight had to taxi down 22 and be re-sequenced for takeoff. Mr. Bertorelli says states the controller was "Clearly irritated by listening to his response when Amreican cleared the runway". I heard the controller become irritated when he had to repeated taxi instructions twice to the American crew, while trying to straighten out the mess the PIC had created.

Posted by: Ed Kingrey | May 10, 2010 11:43 AM    Report this comment

As a twenty five year retired controller I have worked many emergencies that did not require immediate action. It is the pilots responsibility to convey his needs to the controller. In this case I do not feel the pilot conveyed his needs, just declaring an emergency does not mean you have to land NOW! Remember in this case at least one aircraft was forced to go-around to accommodate AAL2.

Had I heard this transmission while working the tower I would have done the same thing until the pilot made it clear that he needed an immediate turn towards the requested runway.

The big question is was there a need to land immediately? Time will tell.

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 10, 2010 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Goyer, injecting the "American Eagle Captain" intimating that the American Captain is somehow different than a small Jet Captain is wrong. The processes are the same and I would submit that flying a 50-90 seat jet (you name the brand) the cross wind component is more restrictive than a Boeing 767. It was in the Jet I flew. And as Part 121 Captains be it big or small airline we are all fully aware of the consequences of our actions. Again I fully support the American Captain's decision.

Posted by: JAMES SMITH | May 10, 2010 11:45 AM    Report this comment

On a flight from Ecuador to MIA, during pre dawn hours, we were forced to go around Cuba because of reasons that the carrier should not be proud. That created a "minimum fuel” situation for arrival in MIA. When we put the gear down, the nose gear green light failed to illuminate. The flight engineer tried to ascertain the gear's status through an opaque viewing port and could not see the paint lines in the appropriate position.

We flew down the runway, ATC said it "appeared to be down to them". We requested to return to land. ATC said, “turn right to 180 and climb to 3,000.” I told the FO to tell them we would not do that, that we would be turning a right downwind for an immediate landing on runway 9R. The FO looked at me as if saying that would get him shot, so I took up the mic and made the same statement. ATC’s response, “are you declaring an emergency”? My response, “If I have to” and he cleared us to enter downwind and cleared us to land.

Fuel was critical, we could not take the usual tour of the Everglades. I later met with FAA Inspectors, and presented them with a written statement of the circumstances. Both of the FAA inspectors involved said that what I did was reasonable. The more serious concern was the failure of ATC units to pass on to the terminal facilities our declaration of “minimum fuel”.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 10, 2010 11:59 AM    Report this comment

At the time the event happened, the "advise ATC you are minimum fuel at initial contact" was not part of the process. The incident in question may have been one of the reasons why they changed the rules.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 10, 2010 12:12 PM    Report this comment

At the time of this event, the "Advise ATC upon each contact with each facility" was not part of the process.

MIA Center was advised with the assumption that they would pass on the information.

The fact that they did not may be one of the reasons that the pilot is now responsible to advise each new facility upon initial contact.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 10, 2010 12:16 PM    Report this comment

Marc, you are absolutely correct. I'm both a pilot & controller, and as a controller, I can tell you I've seen this scenario play out where the pilot really has to insist on receiving emergency priority because a supervisor or controller has decided they don't really think their issue is a major deal. So, although I will probably not have many on my side, I'm very sympathetic to the pilot in this scenario. If they had never requested 31 before declaring the emergency, then yes, without a fuel issue, their actions are rather disproportionate to the problem.

Posted by: Katrina L | May 10, 2010 12:31 PM    Report this comment

PIC declaring Emergency means every option to complete the flight safely is at the disposal of the captain, and it's ATC's job to help make that happen. Things turned out OK, so we do have the luxury of debate. We don't know from this MP3 fragment all the relevant facts in this case. I do, however, feel a genuine lifethreatening emergency here was rather unlikely, given the pilot's statement "If you don't give us to runway 31R we're gonna declare an emergency." True emergencies are not conditional. The controller essentially told American 2 Heavy he'd try to work it out. This wasn't good enough for Captain Pedantic, who insisted on performing his (legal) monkey-wrench maneuvering, apparently to teach the balky controller a lesson he'd never forget. Say "unable" if that's what you mean. Say "minimal fuel" if that's what you mean. But if you're really concerned about safety, don't say the E word unless you damn well mean it. If there had been an accident or incident involving planes scrambling to get out of this cowboy's way, the postings here would be quite a bit different.

Posted by: Dennis Whitehead | May 10, 2010 12:46 PM    Report this comment

"Unable" is the least used and perhaps one of the most important words a PIC can utter. I have three dead experienced twin piston driver friends who agreed to strange things,like going around for an F-16 when he had an engine caged, gear and flaps down in a Cheyenne. Two dead. A Baron pilot accepted a flight with too many fat people on board and mushed it into a field. Four dead. A C-414 pilot flew thru icing to get to an airfield where he picked up a pilot who said 'unable'in a Caravan, then flew back thru it on the way home, killing five. Considering what we don't know about the AA flight like fuel reserves, sick passengers, crosswind proficiency and engine behavior in a crosswind for that tail number, using the 'E' word seems prudent if not heroic. If the FAA thinks otherwise the Captain will get to tell his side of the story. Better that than a bunch of grieving lawyers telling theirs.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | May 10, 2010 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Is there any difference between "We can't land on 22L" and "unable 22L"? Yeah, he probably should have said "minimum fuel", but as far as I can tell, that's the only gripe I have with the Captain's performance here.

Posted by: Michael Jesch | May 10, 2010 1:01 PM    Report this comment

Don't understand the hubbub. The pilots I know would never overstep their authority without true emergency conditions. Controllers, on the other hand are loath to change "efficient traffic flow" without a 2x4 to the nose.
Brused egos be damned, I'm glad not all pilots have been browbeaten into submission to the system without independent thinking. They must not be intimidated to do the right thing. Controllers should honor their request immediately, or accept the PIC's dictate without question and put them on the ground immediately; sorting out details sometime later. I hope all pilots "get" this.
I hope this PIC gets nothing but a letter of commendation in his file. He's one I would want to sit behind anytime.

Posted by: Pete Jessen | May 10, 2010 1:08 PM    Report this comment

Paul's initial comments and those of the experienced captains notwithstanding, and in the absence of other issues, I reckon this will play out as a frustration- induced but unnecessary use of an emergency declaration. I further reckon that if so, only a small to medium sized book will be thrown at the crew - just enough to discourage a trend.

... grieving lawyers? Chuckle.

Posted by: John Hogan | May 10, 2010 1:15 PM    Report this comment

Flight crew and operations management should always support their subordinates when a pilot believes the declaration of an emergency was necessary. To discourage such action is to court the kinds of problems we have seen in the past. Flying as FO in the ‘60s and ‘70’s, I flew with Captains who would not declare an emergency unless their seat was on fire and they could not escape.

Aviation history (specifically at JFK) has a few events where the pilots were unwilling to take the necessary action to assure the safety of the aircraft. (Avianca 52 on January 25, 1990 is one example).

Experience tells us it is almost always better to declare an emergency and get the airplane on the ground safely. If letters must be prepared and consequences are imposed by the collected FAA Monday Morning Quarterbacks, all that bother is still preferred to pranging the aircraft.

If fuel was critical, declaring an emergency was certainly justified in this instance.

Posted by: THOMAS OLSEN | May 10, 2010 1:35 PM    Report this comment

The AAL operating manual limits crosswind landings to 29 knots and higher gusts. The Captain was correct in refusing 22L. If there was no fuel remaining problem it probably would have been better to accept vectors for 31R. I believe other aircraft following the 767 would have made the same request and perhaps approach control would have changed the landing runways. No safety minded Captain would deliberately ignore company policies.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 10, 2010 1:54 PM    Report this comment

The assumption at this point is the PIC did what he thought was necessary to ensure the safety of his passsengers and aircraft. All else is pure speculation. Innocent until proven guilty, or more appropriate to this discussion, right until proven wrong.

An investigation is probably warrented so that all of the facts are understood before any conclusion is reached.

However, even if the facts show there was a gray area for whatever reason (marginal fuel), the decision must be left for the PIC to make and not be crucified for later. Disciplining the pilot would have an effect on other PIC's who might worry that they would be hung out to dry in a similar situation. That's bad for everyone.

Posted by: Art Jackson | May 10, 2010 2:02 PM    Report this comment

It would be interesting to know the statistics on justification of declared emergencies.

In medicine this review is done retrospectively with appendectomies. If you are not taking out SOME normal appendices in your emergency appendectomies, you are not doing enough emergency appendectomies. Or in other words, if every one of your emergency appendectomies is confirmed by pathology, you are being too conservative in your indications for emergency surgery and taking too many risks with your patients.

If the PIC is not justified retrospectively for his declared emergency, we have to remember that he was "up there wishing he (and pax) was down here" and that he didn't hurt any of them or his crew. If other reasonable pilots would agree with his call I say that the pilot was correct, ipso facto. In any event, the benefit of any doubt should go to the PIC.

I do not recall ever hearing of someone hurt due to declaring an emergency, but the reverse is sadly the case.

In this case of AA2-JFK, the absence of some of the pertinent facts makes almost all discussion, conjecture.

Probably the best move for FAA would be to take a look, justify the call and close the book.

Posted by: John Gullett | May 10, 2010 2:39 PM    Report this comment

The whole thing could have been avoided had the controller simply offered to redirect him for 31R. It was the controller's attitude, "...I'll pass that along...", basic contempt, that caused the pilots to force the him to take them seriously. I might have asked for 22L maybe one more time, but I would then have the choice of proceeding to my alternate, or getting into a pissing contest with a JFK controller, or declaring an emergency. Seeing that the only thing between me and my runway was a guy with an atitude? I would have been taken the controller to school myself.

Was the E-word necessary? Not really. Was it provoked? Clearly. Was it taken seriously? No. Was it abused? Probably.

Had this Captain allowed himself to be pressured into a landing, with the CVR faithfully recording each word spoken, and then botched that landing, the FAA, and American, would have crucified them for 'wreckless and careless' faster than you can say FAR.

Though the crew should have used just a little more tact getting the runway of choice, I wasn't in the cockpit that afternoon. It's about command authority and that authority being taken seriously (by both parties).

Posted by: Alan Tipps | May 10, 2010 2:48 PM    Report this comment

>>Probably the best move for FAA would be to take a look, justify the call and close the book.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2010 3:08 PM    Report this comment

I see a rug dance in the chief pilot's office in this guy's future.

Posted by: jan burden | May 10, 2010 3:44 PM    Report this comment

For all we know the Captain from American 2 might have just been released from OE on the 767. That might mean higher minimums and different crosswind limits until the consolidation period has passed.

Finally, the winds that day exceeded the 29 knot crosswind limit for American Airlines. There is no way around that fact. Unless the wind was 29 kts. or less, you are unable to land on that runway.

I can remember coming up to an area of thunderstorms and needing to deviate to the right of course. The controller told me he was unable to let me turn. I told him my only option would be to declare an emergency and I would then be deviating to the right of course. Only after I mentioned the word "Emergency" did he let me deviate around that weather.

Would I have really declared an emergency? Absolutely! The safety of my passengers and crew always comes first.

Posted by: Brent Koth | May 10, 2010 3:59 PM    Report this comment

This wouldn't have been given a second thought if the crew had said "We're minimum fuel and don't have enough for a go-around in a crosswind landing" or "unable to land on 22. Declaring a fuel emergency with 10 minutes fuel remaining."

The controller should have asked what his emergency was, if he should roll the trucks, or what his fuel remaining was.

We don't know all the facts, but it's obvious that there was poor communication on both parts.

Posted by: Dan Peters | May 10, 2010 4:09 PM    Report this comment

Did you notice that the gust factor was not mentioned to the subsequent airplanes in line for 22L? It's amazing how it died down so quickly.

Posted by: JAMIE ALEXANDER | May 10, 2010 4:15 PM    Report this comment

I listened to the audio before reading the comments and again afterward...there's no doubt in my mind what the AA captain did was legal and -probably- necessary since we have no idea what he had told anybody before this exchange, but he sure did get uptight as soon as the wind figures were given to him after 'cleared to land' which he had acknowledged. If there really WAS an emergency, whatever information existed to show why it developed was inexcusably omitted from the report...otherwise the captain came off, to me, as pretty much of a prick, he sounded like someone who never heard of Dale Carnegie.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | May 10, 2010 4:35 PM    Report this comment

Minimum fuel at many airports can easily be emergency fuel at JFK where a go around most likely means being vectored on a grand tour of the eastern seaboard before ever seeing the numbers on any northeastern runway.

This blog oppotunity has if nothing else demonstrated that Avweb's readership spans the breadth and width of airmen from sliverback professionals to abject joyriders who don't even know how much they don't know. This declaration of emergency from seems totally reasonable to anyone who has been there and done that if nowhere else but in their own mental database of worst case scenario contemplations. All successful professionals have that mental database. Hopefully only a few will ever have to dip into that database. Sounds like these guys did.

Posted by: John Kliewer | May 10, 2010 4:39 PM    Report this comment

A flying club at a Class D airport where I used to fly had a member who was doing routine touch-and-goes in a 172 on a quiet morning when he got a discharge annunciator light. The alternator had failed. He declared an emergency. The fire trucks were scrambled and he landed uneventfully. A lot of people questioned his decision to declare an emergency in such a situation, but nobody questioned his authority to do so.

Posted by: Ryan Lunde | May 10, 2010 4:51 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Alan Tibbs, I Don't hear "contempt" in the controllers response, maybe a bit of frustration.

At most larger (busy) airports the controller has no option but to send a go-around back to the radar controller. This is evident in this case since at least one flight was sent around to accommodate AAL2.

Time will tell.

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 10, 2010 4:58 PM    Report this comment

Controllers at major airports have their reasons for being reluctant to change departure and arrival runways when the winds dictate doing so. One winter day at O'hare the winds were at 50 kts. from the southwest. Right at the maximum for continued operations. They were landing on the west runways and the crosswind was at maximum. After landing and taxiing East on a parallel taxiway I could see several aircraft flying down final sideways. Finally a United 747 said "I've had enough, requesting vectors to 22". The transmissions that followed were "me too, me too, me too". The 76 that refused 22 was correct in doing so but should have simply requested vectors to 31 unless there was a fuel issue.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 10, 2010 5:23 PM    Report this comment

Until we find out his fuel state there is no way to know if he had an actual emergency. That said I always thought we were supposed to plan for an alternate and to have enough fuel to get there. If that's true the information given so far don't seem to support calling an emergency. He absolutely had the right, and the duty, not to land on a runway that he couldn't handle but that in itself is not an emergency. We'll see what the NTSB and the FAA have to say.

Posted by: gary van dyke | May 10, 2010 6:02 PM    Report this comment

I don't know - if he feels unable to land safely, and unable to go somewhere else it sounds like an emergency to me! I'd rather fly in the back of his aluminum tube than the other flights who kept their mouths shut in (possibly in excess of) maximum crosswinds for their operation just to keep ATC happy.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 10, 2010 6:53 PM    Report this comment

@John Kliewer---could you please tell me what that sentence

"This declaration of emergency from seems totally reasonable to anyone who has been there and done that if nowhere else but in their own mental database of worst case scenario contemplations."

means in English?

Posted by: Karl Schneider | May 10, 2010 7:22 PM    Report this comment

Karl, with my apologies to you and to Dale Carnegie, the word "from" should not have been included in the sentence. I tried to edit it out but did so too late. If you still cannot make sense out of the sentence after removing the word "from" you are graciously excused and I will understand from where you are coming.

Posted by: John Kliewer | May 10, 2010 7:33 PM    Report this comment

The captain is the person with the final authority for the safety of a flight. No one may override that authority. The captain did what he considered essential to land the flight safely. I'm with him, totally.

Posted by: Manuel Erickson | May 10, 2010 7:43 PM    Report this comment

With 26,000 hours of PIC in jets and hundreds of flights in to JFK I can easily say that based on what I heard on the tape, the crew are in for, as someone else said a "rug dance" in the chief pilots office. I think it is more like "rug burns"! First, only steady state winds affect the limitation (be it aircraft or airline) for crosswinds, the fact that it was gusting becomes moot until the airplane is about to touch down. Only then can an assessment be made as to the severity of the winds and the controlability of the aircraft. I know that controller very well (only from having worked with him in/out of JFK) and he is excellent albeit sometimes short/rude....remember ITS NEW YORK! I agree that there could be more to it than what the tape reveals but I doubt it....I think these guys were just tired of bumping around for a really long time, pissed they didn't have a localizer, and pissed they will prang a landing after flying for 5 hours. I see no reason/need to declare an emergency like that unless one engine was out and the other was burning. Only other option was the captain had a hooker scheduled for an hour after landing and really didn't want to miss that appointment. :-)

Posted by: Gordon Lichtenberg | May 10, 2010 7:44 PM    Report this comment

So much for 26000 hours of PIC in jets and hundreds of flights in to JFK. Give me the rug burn please, and while you are at it my retirement check as well.

Posted by: John Kliewer | May 10, 2010 7:57 PM    Report this comment

Congrats to Brent Koth on his comments on the the opinions of those who have never sat in Left Seat of an airliner day after day, night after night making decisions the arm chair guys would pee their pants just thinking about. Right on, brother.

Posted by: DONALD ELLIOTT | May 10, 2010 8:07 PM    Report this comment

The term "minimum fuel" has been bantered around in the comments on this incident. Whether or not fuel was a factor this time, understand that using the words "minimum fuel" may not help you the way you think it will. Read the pilot/controller manual definition of minimum fuel and think about it: you just went missed approach for the aircraft in front of you who missed the high speed turnoff, and you have 18 minutes of extra fuel before your palms start sweating. The controller hears you say minimum fuel and knows that you can accept little or no delay. So instead of putting you in the conga line on approach at number 10, manages to get you the fifth spot. That's "little or no delay" to him, he cut your time in half. Ten minutes downwind, 2 minutes between airplanes, and guess what? All 18 minutes are gone before you touch down. The guy in the left seat gets paid to look ahead and use his best judgment given all the factors facing him. It may have been that it was time to use the "E-word." We won't know until all the facts are in. But meanwhile, be very aware that "minimum fuel" is NOT a trump card at a busy airport.

Posted by: Bob Bostick | May 10, 2010 8:23 PM    Report this comment

John, what part of my post was not clear? I know JFK operations very well, I have plenty of PIC decision making experience and all I wanted to add is my opinion (hence "comment blog") that unless there is significant unreported extenuating circumstances, the emergency declaration was unwarranted. I guess we should all declare an emergency if our runway is too far from the gate, a vector adds more than a minute of unnecessary flight time etc. Again, unless they had one shut down and one burning, ignoring the controllers command to fly runway heading (without seemingly good reason) was irresponsible and NOT something that will earn a retirement check. I have been in that position (recently ORD) where it was so windy/gusty (28 knot steady state crosswind w/gusts to 38, within limits) that it triggered a performance increasing (caution) windshear alert. We advised ATC and got vectors to a different runway and 10 minutes later all was good. Yes, the controller was miffed but when the airplane behind me got a WS alert also, they got the message it was time to change the runway. The AA crew was probably just annoyed by the wind and the normally short/curt/rude controllers in the NYC area (wouldn't trade NY controllers for anything, they push tin and do a great job but can piss you off!). I don't think there is much of a debate here, rather a crew that pushed "emergency authority" much too far. If someone can clearly explain WHAT the emergency was, I will change my tune.

Posted by: Gordon Lichtenberg | May 10, 2010 8:28 PM    Report this comment

What is all this discussion about? He is the CAPTAIN!!!

Posted by: Johnny Carter | May 10, 2010 8:33 PM    Report this comment

Oh, by the way. Has anyone considered the danger factor of ignoring the controllers commands considering there were departures from 22R and aircraft on the downwind to the 22's? Downwind traffic for 22 usually is 6 miles southeast of the field at 4,000. Completely ignoring the controller like that had the potential for something catastrophic. A controller can't just snap their fingers (or wiggle their nose) and make airplanes move out of the way. This is why published missed approach procedures or heading/altitudes issued by the controller, assures a clear path from other traffic with normal traffic flow.

Posted by: Gordon Lichtenberg | May 10, 2010 8:37 PM    Report this comment

Mireille Goyer: "This was not an American Eagle captain; this was an American Airlines B767 captain."

YOU ARE JOKING, right? If not, you SHOULD be.

The majority of AE captains have over 15 years with the company (9 just to upgrade), 12,000+ hrs and are some of the most experienced in the regionals. They are trained to the same standard in the same flight academy. (Except AE pilot have 3 failures, they are out while AA gets retrained until proficiency.) To hear such an ignorant comment from someone with your credentials is shameful.

Posted by: Unknown | May 10, 2010 9:31 PM    Report this comment

26,000 Hr. Gordon is incorrect when he states that only steady winds affect the limitation (be it aircraft or airline) for crosswinds. The AAL 767 operating manual states that components of 29 knots with HIGHER GUSTS be considered operationally unacceptable. Also the comment about the hooker was unnecessary.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 10, 2010 9:53 PM    Report this comment

Ross who was forcing him to land? He made it clear he wasn't landing on 22.

If you walk into the movie theater and don't like your seat you leave (or go to your alternate in this case).

Walking into the theater and yelling "fire" will certainly clear the seats . . . but there better be a FIRE!

So far we only have part of the story, I'm looking forward to the rest. If this crew flew FIVE HOURS and didn't realize they had a fuel issue until they were on final and had unfavorable winds but didn't bother to mention that to anyone ATC . . . why doesn't this seem like a problem?

Posted by: SHAWN KNIGHT | May 10, 2010 10:13 PM    Report this comment

Is not the controller required to give a clearance limit when issuing vectors? The clearance to 'continue runway heading' is incomplete. Hearing it two or three times would tell me the controller is 'incomplete' and that WOULD be an emergency in JFK airspace.
I, too, have been vectored into JFK (from Calgary) via a point half way to Bermuda, so I can understand the Captain's desire to not be left to TRACON's devices after a transcon flight, vectors and a missed approach. Alternates get dropped when a landing appears to be assured in good weather to allow for extra vectoring to destination, and some flights are filed "No Alternate" as well.
Between the lack of response from the controller and the (possible) lack of fuel in his tanks, I don't blame him one bit.

Posted by: Peter Buckley | May 10, 2010 11:33 PM    Report this comment

Hey Peter, I wonder if your comments would be the same if you were the flight that was forced to go around because of AAL2's actions?

The initial clearance to "fly runway heading" or other heading is common in a miss-approach situation. The radar controller would issue the purpose of the vectors such as visual approach runway 31R or another instrument approach.

JFK has some of the best controllers and while we all make mistakes this was not a controller error.

But again lets wait for the facts to come out and not wildly point fingers.

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 11, 2010 12:01 AM    Report this comment

Hey Peter, I wonder if your comments would be the same if you were the flight that was forced to go around because of AAL2's actions?

The initial clearance to "fly runway heading" or other heading is common in a miss-approach situation. The radar controller would issue the purpose of the vectors such as visual approach runway 31R or another instrument approach.

JFK has some of the best controllers and while we all make mistakes this was not a controller error.

But again lets wait for the facts to come out and not wildly point fingers.

Posted by: Ray Laughinghouse | May 11, 2010 12:01 AM    Report this comment

On first reading the text I was siding with the captain, but after listening to the audio, I changed my mind. The captain apparently didn't understand that the controller was trying to accommodate his request for RWY 31L. The controller had some rapid-fire coordinating to do to handle the go-around and runway request for AA2, hence the abbreviated "fly runway heading" to start with. If the pilot had some emergency other than the crosswind limit then he needed to communicate that information.

Posted by: Unknown | May 11, 2010 3:48 AM    Report this comment

OK, someone please tell me why on god's green earth we are talking about fuel here? Not once have I heard anyone reporting this pilot declaring minimum fuel, or an emergency because of fuel!!! EVER...PERIOD! The captain was given a clearance to a runway that was beyond his comfort zone. Instead of declining that clearance like a true pilot in command, he warned the controller that if he didnt get his way, he would declare an emergency and do what he wanted. HE DID JUST THAT! This is the end of the story friends! Did you not listen to the audio? The inflection in his voice was not of panic, it was not of authority, it was beligerence. WE can all listen to what happened, and point fingers can commence shortly after.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 12:45 PM    Report this comment

Robert your confusing facts with speculation.

We're trying to give the crew the benefit of the doubt . . . unfortunately there's a lot of doubt.

Posted by: SHAWN KNIGHT | May 11, 2010 12:49 PM    Report this comment

I was never rated in the 767 but at TWA the max crosswind component permitted by ops specs in the 707, 727, L1011, DC-9 and MD-80 was 29kts. If this is the case on the 767, then the Captain clearly was correct in refusing to land on 22.

Posted by: Alan Clammer | May 11, 2010 1:03 PM    Report this comment

I think the captain acted wrongly (which is a much softer term than I originally tyeped). Unless there were other circumstances, and I don't hear him mention them, he had no emergency. In my opinion, he used his emergency authority to butt others out of, in order to get, his way.

Posted by: James Croce | May 11, 2010 1:06 PM    Report this comment

Robert, the captain had a choice: land on 22 and get busted for violating his operations manual (which, don't forget, carries the force of law), or else land on 31L. It's *his* call to make. Nobody else's. Read 91.3(a) until you understand it.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 11, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Why is it that so many think landing on 22 or declare an emergency were the only two choices?

Posted by: SHAWN KNIGHT | May 11, 2010 1:13 PM    Report this comment

Yeah I agree. Yesterday I was on his side, but the more I thought about it the less I could defend it. The controller set him off when he said "I'll pass that along" kinda dismissively. I agree also with Mac Hayes, all he had to do was say he was unable 22L and request sequencing for 31R. Despite the controller's attitude, it sounds like he was trying to work exactly that out for them with the runway-heading assignation. I did find it interesting that the controller behaved as if he still had control of the flight, even after the E-word was used. A-type personalities in a dynamic environment; add some stress and you have misunderstanding. Good lesson.

Posted by: Alan Tipps | May 11, 2010 1:14 PM    Report this comment

Shawn, I am not confusing anything. I have listened to the audio. You can give the same benefit of doubt to the guys who walk in MSNBC's to catch a predator house! But the facts as they have been reported, and the audio are very clear! If you would like shawn, I could start quoting audio? The captains words do not lie. And further more, just because we are pilots it does not mean we need to defend the indefensable. Imagine if this situation had resulted in a loss of separation. It didnt thank god. But I will leave you with this phrase shawn, anti-authority. It is quite clear what is on the tapes. I dont think I am confusing what I heard with fact, because what I heard is fact, and will be presented as such at the hearing.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 1:14 PM    Report this comment

Following up on my post 2 posts ago, TWA op specs allowed you to add HALF of the gust factor to the reported wind. Thus, in this case, with the wind reported at 310 at 22 gusting to 35, half the gust component would be 7.5 kts, thus placing the landing above the 29 kt limit. But, again, this was at TWA .... not sure what AA op specs state and never flewe the 767. I come down on the Captain's side for no other reason than the simple fact that he has final authority on the safe operation of his aircraft. Pretty straight forward. Last Sunday night I took off as a pax in a Delta 737 from EWR to SLC. The windsock was straight up, meaning at least 35 kts from a quartering TAIL wind! I doubt this was legal and we used every bit of the runway.

Posted by: Alan Clammer | May 11, 2010 1:17 PM    Report this comment

furthermore, the heart of this discussion is not whether the captain was wrong for not landing on the runway because of safety, it is the manner in which he went about it. It is permissble to deny a clearance without declaring an emergency. It is not permissable to declare an emergency when none exists. Period!

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 1:17 PM    Report this comment

Robert . . . please read my post again, I was agreeing with you.

Posted by: SHAWN KNIGHT | May 11, 2010 1:23 PM    Report this comment

@John K...yep, now I see what you were saying, it's sort of a roundabout way of echoing the old saw "walk a mile in my shoes"...I don't really agree though. And I think you probably meant Andrew, not Dale. There still seems to be no evidence of any actual emergency. Shrug.


Posted by: Karl Schneider | May 11, 2010 1:46 PM    Report this comment

To Johnny Carter - you probably should keep in mind that as with every other occupation, there will always be a few turds. I've known lots of captains who I'd never ever want as friends.

Posted by: Karl Schneider | May 11, 2010 1:51 PM    Report this comment

There are a lot of unknowns spoken of as fact here, specifically: For the voice analyst experts reporting arrogance, who's voice is that on the radio, pilot or FO? The declaration of emergency was partially blocked, then the controller said that in order to get 31R he had to declare an emergency? Then the radio voice calmly and firmly told the controller his intentions. For those who've ever been asked 'say intentions' after saying 'unable' the voice was clear and unequivocal, and perhaps frustrated at not being taken seriously. Since we really don't know what else might have been going South other than the wind report, everything after is pure speculation. It's odd that the controller didn't ask the nature of the emergency, but I bet his workload had suddenly doubled so I forgive him. Perhaps the flight crew didn't have the clarity of thought to come up with "I'm declaring a panpan etc and will soon declare an emergency for uncertain routing for (full bladder, empty tanks, knife at my throat, exploding box lunch, falling stock market or bad planning)."

Posted by: Thomas Connor | May 11, 2010 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Jay Maynard, let me again remind you that as the captain, you can decline a clearance, but you cannot declare an emergency when none exists. you can quote regs to me, all you want, for I know them better than you know how to fly, and you are not listening. I am not saying that the man cant deny a clearance as PIC and the regulations give him that right, but I am saying is that you cannot declare an emergency when one does not exist just to deviate from a clearance or deny it! I understand what the situation was, trust me. I am no armchair ink wet on private pilot temporary license person. I probably hold more ratings and have taken more checkrides as of now, than you ever will. So spare me your ego. And further more, if you want to quote regs to me, come correct, the regs are black and white brother, and they do give the capt. the authority to deny a clearance, especially if he feels it jeapardizes the safety of the flight, or his ability. They do not authorize him to declare an emergency when non exists. To be clear the situation was not an emergency. Nor did it require him to take IMMEDIATE action. All he had to do was say unable, crosswind above company limits. All would have been fine, but he didnt did he!

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 5:37 PM    Report this comment

Shawn Knight is most correct in asking why everyone seems to think that landing on 22 or declaring an emergency? Howabout UNABLE, crosswinds are beyond limits. That is within the authority Jay Maynard is trying to quote from, poorly I might add. The pilot said "we cant land on 22 and we are breaking off our approach and if you dont get us to 31 right we are going to declare an emergency" fly runway heading for now "ok were declaring an emergency, going into 31 right, were going to the left, than coming around" fly runway heading, fly 180 "we are turning around to the left here and landing on 31, remove everyone from our way, weve declared an emergency, we are on a visual" Tell me where declaring an emergency that doesnt exist is in 91.3 § 91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.
(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 5:54 PM    Report this comment

Declaring an emergency because the cross winds are too strong is absurd! This pilot should have done what any GA pilot would do when faced with a closed runway (for whatever reason)--divert! Both La Guardia and Newark have runways that are oriented close to 310 and long enough in those winds to easily handle a 767. IMHO, this incident sets a very bad example of how to use emergency authority and I wouldn't be surprised if the FAA throws the book at the captain.

Posted by: John Hayes | May 11, 2010 5:57 PM    Report this comment

Robert, before you accuse someone else of ego, you might want to stow yours. The simple truth is that we don't know whether an emergency existed or not. The *only* one who can make that decision is the PIC. There are a lot of people quick to armchair quarterback the guy and toss his ticket in the nearest shredder. I'm not one of them. He made the decision to get his airplane on the ground in the fastest manner consistent with the safe completion of the flight. You don't know why he did that. Neither does anyone else, yet. Why not give him the benefit of the doubt, instead of telling him how to fly his airplane?

We, as a society, love to armchair quarterback others' decisions and throw them to the wolves when we disagree with the decision that's often made in the heat of the moment. It's disgusting when people second-guess cops, it's disgusting when people second-guess paramedics (and I did *that* job as a volunteer for 17 years), and it's disgusting when people do it for other professionals.

I wasn't there. You weren't there. Lay off until the facts are in. In the meantime, how about treating your fellow aviators with some respect? Or are you one of those captains nobody wants to be with outside the cockpit?

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 11, 2010 5:59 PM    Report this comment

If the pilot had waited for the controller to sort it out, and fly runway heading as assigned, he would get vectors to his runway of choice. 91.3 is quite clear in saying the pic can diviate from any rule to the extent to meet an emergency. The problem is that the only emergency that exists is the one created by the aircraft in controlled airspace that is not under control. IF you listen the controller did not say if you dont land on 22 then you cant land, he said I will pass that along, fly runway heading! The safe and orderly flow of air traffic must be maintained in order for seperation to be provided. What is scary is that the community of pilots out there, seem to think that somehow what happened here is a ok. If it is a ok, okey dokey hunkey dorey, I challenge you, every one of you most importantly Jay Maynard, to excercise your 91.3 priveleges by declaring an emergency when none exists, and see how long your certificates will remain valid. There are other choices between landing on 22 or declaring an emergency. Just like for this cowboy there will be choices, like civil penalties, certificate suspension, and if he broke seperation with this lil stunt of his, certificate revocation. Authority under 91.3 is only given to the pic when he is actually experience an emergency, period.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 6:07 PM    Report this comment

Jay Maynard, if an emergency existed it would have been relayed to the controller, period. He did not state the nature of any emergency whatsoever, because none existed, and in the comming days, when we find this out for sure...You may think twice about it. When aircrew have problems and declare emergencies, they state said problems with said emergencies. Cant land on 22 is not an emergency. For the record Jay, because this guy has a pilot license, it doesnt grant him anything from me. I wont defend him, especially not after I heard the tapes, and I wouldnt repect you for misquoting regulations to me. Had you bothered to be more respectful, and correct I might add, when quoting 91.3 to my like I am somehow below you in the world of aviation, I wouldnt have much to say. Your right, I wasnt there, you are correct for once, but everyone who has listened to the tapes was technically "there". You can defend him with your life if you want, but it doesnt mean he is right in any way shape or form. Furthermore, acting as a professional is not what happened here, I know I listen to the professionals every day, all day long. What I have heard here is akin to a child at walmart starting to cry because his mother wouldnt get him some candy. I tell ya what Jay, if you are willing to pick this up when the "facts" are in I am more than happy to. There was no emergency, just wait and youll see.

Posted by: rob haschat | May 11, 2010 6:19 PM    Report this comment

How do you know no emergency existed? Were you there?

No? Then why are you so quick to crucify the guy who was there?

91.3 exists for one simple reason: To vest authority in the same place that responsibility lies, with the PIC. ATC isn't flying that 767. They're not even aboard. As someone pointed out above, they're flying a chair at 0 AGL and 0 KIAS. They can request. They can clear. They can suggest. They cannot *order*. The JFK controller on that tape sounded to me like he was trying to order. The PIC believed that complying would jeopardize the safe conclusion of the flight. Was he right? *YOU* *DON'T* *KNOW*. The FAA will figure it out in due course.

Your attitude is not in concert with the goals of aviation safety. Research has shown for years that pilots are hesitant to declare an emergency when there really is one by anyone's definition, and that it costs aircraft and lives. Crucifying the guy for declaring an emergency when he believed one to be warranted will only contaminate other pilots' decision processes, and will raise, not lower, the likelihood that more pilots will fail or refuse to declare emergencies when they're in the middle of dealing with one. Not all pilots are 26000-hour iron men of aviation who can climb in a new airliner and fly it safely around the world on three cups of Jet A and their own manly prowess. Don't treat them like they don't deserve to act as PIC until they can...unless you want to kill aviation stone cold dead.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 11, 2010 6:26 PM    Report this comment

The only people who were there - technically or not - are the two guys in the cockpit. Those of us who listen to the tapes are just armchair quarterbacks.

If the pilot reasonably believed the safe completion of his flight was in jeopardy, then he was entirely justified in declaring an emergency. It's really just that simple.Whether or not he was correct is something that neither you nor I are qualified to decide. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt in the name of safety. What safety objective does crucifying him before all the facts are in serve?

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 11, 2010 6:31 PM    Report this comment

A very interesting situation indeed. At the airline I fly for, the crosswind limit on the 767 is 35kts including gusts. Having said that, certain MELs that we can dispatch under can reduce that crosswind limit below that.

A previous poster said that AA limit is 29kts so when the tower gave the wind check of gusts to 34kts, the crew had no choice but to go-around unless a greater emergency existed.

I can think of a million scenarios why the crew made the choice they did, perhaps their communication of the situation to ATC was not perfect but they may have been very busy at the time and under a lot of external pressure. There is nothing like small numbers on big fuel tank quantity gauges to distract you.

Perhaps the notams indicated that the other runway was available, perhaps the forecast winds were less than the actual when they got there. Perhaps they didn't have the fuel to join the back of the sequence. Perhaps they thought that in JFK they have to be more forceful to get what they need.

One point that I make to pilots here is this. Under ICAO rules, if you don't say the words "PAN" or "MAYDAY" then ATC are not obliged to give you any priority handling. Perhaps in the USA it is different but here as soon as you say those magic words, the world is your oyster.

Posted by: Unknown | May 11, 2010 6:50 PM    Report this comment

The pilot can and should refuse to land on a runway he or she thinks is unsafe, whether because of wind or rain or hemorrhoids. This pilot was correct to change runways, no matter what the demonstrated crosswind component of the plane. We don't have enough information to know whether he really needed to declare an emergency, and whether he was able to accept vectors instead of an immediate approach. Neither did the controller, who might have responded a bit more promptly and definitely to the emergency declaration.

Posted by: Bob Webster | May 11, 2010 8:22 PM    Report this comment

For John Hayes - A closed runway (31L) was not an issue. The 76 landed on 31R at JFK.

For Robert Hasiak - Big Wow! You remind me of the guy who said "Yesterday I couldn't even spell pilut and today I are one"

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 11, 2010 8:33 PM    Report this comment

Bravo to the captain. He overcame what we all fight: group think. He made a controversial decision to ensure the safety of his flight, without short term regard to convenient traffic flow. I would have done differently, and now salute his example.

Posted by: VINCENT MATSUI | May 11, 2010 8:53 PM    Report this comment

Fortunately I fly a C206 and should usually be able to find a Walmart parking lot and survive if not fly off again.

From the audio I think the pilot was a little quick to "demand" an emergency but ATC unresponsive, albeit maybe forced by the regs, so I'm with the pilot. Norcal Approach or even SoCal Appproach, I hope, would be more forthcoming with "fly runway heading expect 31R".

Posted by: RICHARD KENNEDY | May 11, 2010 11:04 PM    Report this comment

FAR 91.3b states, "In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency." What was the emergency REQUIRING IMMEDIATE ACTION in this case? Maybe the aircraft was low on fuel--I don't know; but, I haven't seen any facts indicating that anyone had declared an urgent fuel state. I believe that once the captain determined that he could not legally land on 22, he had two choices: 1) to decline the landing clearance and divert or 2) to decline the landing clearance, go around and negotiate another solution with the controllers. If they kept him circling until fuel became an issue, he would then be obligated to declare an emergency and take the runway of his choice--or divert. There are plenty of other runway options within a few minutes flying time from Kennedy. As I understand the facts of this case, it sounds like a verbal game of chicken and that is not what the 'E' word is for. Let me make it clear that I am not siding with the controllers; but based on the facts as I understand them, I don't' believe that the captain made an appropriate decision.

Posted by: John Hayes | May 11, 2010 11:49 PM    Report this comment

BTW, I once experienced this exact same situation in Reno, NV. I arrived to discover that the crosswinds on the active runway far exceeded the demonstrated crosswind capability for my aircraft. I felt that the only safe option was to decline the landing clearance and to request the crossing runway. At first, the tower refused so I had to circle a while and do some negotiation, but I finally got my way.

Posted by: John Hayes | May 11, 2010 11:50 PM    Report this comment

It's getting downright dangerous out there. Last week's blog had Paul B. leaving the pattern in his Cub for a determined jet jockey to fly staight in with no consideration for the traffic in the pattern of a small, busy airport. This week it's a people tube Captain using the Emergency power as a threat to a controller if he also doesn't get his way. He didn't say he had an emergency, he said he WOULD have one... ? These two men are very fortunate indeed that others gave way in both scenarios for the safety of the airspace. Wonder if they feel grateful?

Posted by: David Miller | May 12, 2010 2:35 AM    Report this comment

What's a four-letter word that starts with F and always gets people's attention? In marketing, it's "Free." In aviation, it's "Fuel."

Posted by: Paul Niquette | May 12, 2010 10:19 AM    Report this comment

Mark Anderson's input is very instructive. Decades ago, a Pilgrim Airlines Twin Otter departed New London, Conn. for La Guardia in a night rainstorm. The pilot ended up in a stacked holding pattern, and became concerned about his fuel state. Instead of declaring an emergency, he elected to divert to New Haven where he went missed, and tried to get back to New London. Instead of flying along the coast line, he took a short cut across Long Island Sound to go direct, such was his fuel condition at that point. He ran out of luck and fuel while he was talking to his company in New London. The plane was found upright on the floor of the Sound with the doors open and no one inside. The life vests were reportedly still in the plane (probably moot since the waters of the Sound were close to freezing). As I recall, the bodies of the pilot, co-pilot, and their two passengers were never found. With this in mind, I can't fault the decisiveness of our 767 Captain. On the contrary, I'd be happy to fly with him.

Posted by: Harry Mathis | May 12, 2010 12:02 PM    Report this comment

Mark Anderson: Thank you sir for some DATA: A little light where heat seems to be the coin of the realm. At least for some.

Since the crew did two laps in the penalty box until they hit bingo fuel, is it possible that the crew declared min-fuel with another controller who forgot to pass that tidbit along but the crew assumed it had? Pure unadulterated speculation on my part, but the theory fits the scenario.

Posted by: Thomas Connor | May 12, 2010 12:16 PM    Report this comment

My experience is 11 years ATC including military and FAA, and 22 years 121 currently on the 757/767.
The runway configuration was likely determined by the ATC Area Manager(Head Supervisor) on duty in compliance with the guidelines of the Port Authority to minimize the Runway 31L closure impact on overall operations. The individual controllers were dealing with what they were directed to work with. I'm sure if they had their way they would prefer to work with less airplanes on less runways than more.
Currently I am directed to arrive with 9900 lbs for the 767 at the destination and not less than 5500 lbs at the alternate. If it is determined that I will arrive with less than that at the alternate I am directed to declare a Minimum Fuel Advisory. It was sound judgement to refuse 22L for arrival. That is not in question. Did the wind recently increase since commencing the approach that put it out of limits for the shortest runway at JFK? If that were not the case then the departure runway could possibly have been requested before wasting fuel on an approach to an unacceptable runway. How far was the alternate? I don't have all the facts but it appears that a Minimum Fuel Advisory would normally preclude declaring an emergency if that was indeed the issue at question.
Actually the controllers do appear to be at fault for not querying the nature of the emergency, fuel, SOB and rolling the equipment assuming it was a runway issue and not some unforeseen, undisclosed anomaly.

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | May 12, 2010 4:56 PM    Report this comment

First thing..the pilot has the right and obligation to do whatever HE/SHE feels is necessary for the safety of the flight (ie § 91.3)

Landing in a crosswind that exceeds the airplane's demonstrated crosswind component and possibly even company regs is one reason to demand a different runway.

Approaching with minimum fuel is a reason to request priority handling.

Combining these two circumstances introduces the possibility of having to go around with minimum fuel potentially reducing fuel to dangerously low levels is something that would cause any reasonable pilot to demand priority handling in no uncertain terms.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | May 12, 2010 5:29 PM    Report this comment

Wow guys!! My earlier post here was before things got so heated! I would suggest everyone take a deep breath and count to 10! There's no need to point fingers or start accosting each other!

Mr Bertorelli, you surely opened up a can of worms here! Lookin' for some comment? You most definitely have that!!

Gentlemen...and I use that as a bonified class B individual who usually sees a glass as half full, unless we're talking about my "erased" pension, but that is another story.. The recently posted info about landing fuel at 6,500 lbs is enough to get me excited. I personally would've been crying wolf (emergency) long before I was switched over to tower. From this audio, we don't know what transpired with the TRACON guys. I would've started making a lot of noise around 10,000 lbs, advocating heavily for some resolution. No one wants to declare an emergency if it's not necessary. Sure, it's easy to do in the simulator, but the real world means lots of paperwork and yes...having to endure something like this.

Posted by: Jeffrey Munzell | May 12, 2010 11:31 PM    Report this comment

What FAR gives the authority to the FAA to question an emergency declaration? 91.3 give the Administrator the right only to a report, and the final authority for the aircraft operation to PIC.

Posted by: MARC DAVIDSON | May 12, 2010 11:42 PM    Report this comment

My guess is that the crew started making a lot of noise much, much earlier. They were probably evaluating their situation while in the hold. It's real easy to get "sucked into" a situation where ATC is trying to keep you from having you divert. They are simply trying to do their best as well. For those of us who do this professionally, we have all seen this type of scenario. When do you pull the ripcord?? It varies for everyone.

They also may not have had boarded alternate fuel if the weather was good, so that probably factored into things.

My guess is though that the crew (and the Captain in particular) has filled out his paperwork and is comfortably watching "Idol" on TV. I'm sure he is probably done with the whole thing!

Posted by: Jeffrey Munzell | May 13, 2010 12:02 AM    Report this comment

btw, I meant "type B personality", not class B individual..

Posted by: Jeffrey Munzell | May 13, 2010 5:59 AM    Report this comment

This has been a facinating discourse. Bu that b eing said, I would fly with this pilot anywhere. He may be a bit arrogant, but he did what he needed to do for the safe completion of his trip?

Posted by: Paul Feller | May 13, 2010 6:38 AM    Report this comment

Joe Horwatt: Thanks for the experienced view point.

For those that don't fly into JFK, I'll give a little perspective into a "normal" arrival.

The airspeed reductions for metering into JFK can sometimes start over 300 miles from the airport. Even when the weather is CAVU. We start looking at the fuel immediately. We often get vectors and receive holding that results in 1/2 a turn before we get released. It is easy to get close to your minimum fuel decisions because you are slowly getting to the airport. Each time we get closer to the airport the fuel required to get to the alternate changes. The clearance to continue can come just before we reach the fuel level we decided upon. As we get "stepped" towards our destination we always have a "we are out of here" fuel level. When you are visual with the runway it is easy to touch your decision fuel because you are #1 for the runway. If there is a safe, open, and available runway at my destination I would not go to another airport in the New York area and land at a lower fuel level.

The controllers and the crews are trying to make the JFK runway restrictions work. Most of the time it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

I hope this adds some illumination to the conditions.

Posted by: Mark Anderson | May 13, 2010 7:12 AM    Report this comment

>>I hope this adds some illumination to the conditions.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 13, 2010 7:21 AM    Report this comment

The article itself was clearly lacking the insight into the critical fuel situation this professional crew was having to manage. From what limited perspective this article and sound byte from the ATC recording, the amount of emotion piling up in these threads is surprising. The crew did exactly what they should have given their fuel state on arrival in VMC with min gas at 11.5K (they landed with 6.5K) ... if the ATC controller wasn't giving them priority (as he clearly wasn't), the crew did EXACTLY what they should have and should be commended.

We did not have the facts in this case before the debate took off, but given the "fuel emergency", what else should they have done "strenuously object" to another vector for sequencing?

Posted by: William Buckingham | May 13, 2010 10:26 AM    Report this comment

Yes, the Captain did do what he should have. My point here is that I don't think the tower controller had any idea of this flight's serious fuel situation. I think had he known ahead of time of the real situation, he would've given AA anything he wanted.

Posted by: Jeffrey Munzell | May 13, 2010 10:44 AM    Report this comment

This is why 91.3(a) puts responsibility and authority in the hands of the captain. He knows. ATC doesn't. As I said the first time: 91.3(a) ends the discussion.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | May 13, 2010 10:50 AM    Report this comment

So I have to ask: If the arrival and delays are so well known at Kennedy, how is it that with only two turns in holding, the flight landed with so little fuel at the destination airport? The captain does have the final authority for the safe operation of the flight which includes the responsibility for safely planning the flight. Declaring an emergency to avoid running out of fuel is certainly an appropriate response; however, given the known delays, arriving at the destination with minimum fuel does not sound like adequate (or even legal) fuel planning to me. (Yes, I understand that there are company policies about fuel reserves; but, that does not absolve the captain from his responsibility to adequate plan the flight. And, yes I have flown jets into NE destinations where I have been vectored 100 nm out of my way at low altitude.)

Posted by: John Hayes | May 13, 2010 11:53 AM    Report this comment

For John Hayes - In your last posting you stated that the flight in question was, in your opinion, dispatched illegally. I believe it is safe to say a Captain and Dispatcher would never sign a release that was believed to be unsafe or did not comply with FAA and Company Regs. I also believe that American Airlines has been flying into the New York area longer than you have and is well aware of the possible contingencies that might arise, weather and airport conditions to name two. Until you know all of the facts regarding this event you should not criticize anyone.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 13, 2010 1:25 PM    Report this comment

Ahhh. Mark Anderson's comments (assuming the data are accurate) puts some context on the emotions heard in the audio.

A crew short of fuel, especially if it has already reported such to ATC, has every right to expect priority handling, and every right to be frustrated and exasperated with a tower controller apparently prioritizing his traffic situation above a min-fuel situation.

One thing that has me puzzled: Some 5,000 lbs short of fuel while landing 15 minutes early after two turns in holding. Did the flight perhaps depart late and push up the throttles to make up lost time?

More speculation...

At any rate, the crew's statement "If you don't give us 31 we're going to declare an emergency..." makes perfect sense, assuming Mark's data are accurate.

Translation: "We're need and are supposed to be getting priority handling. Give it to us or we'll declare an emergency and take it."

Posted by: Mark Sletten | May 13, 2010 2:27 PM    Report this comment

For Rober Terbet: Nowhere did I say that I knew "all of the facts" nor did I criticize anyone. I simply asked a question which I'll try to restate more clearly. Mark Anderson clearly stated that the arrival procedure into Kennedy is full of well known fuel and time wasters. You are right: American has been flying into Kennedy for a long time. So they must be very aware of how much fuel might be wasted on an approach--even when it is CAVU. The simple question I am asking is, "How is it possible to do two turns in holding, make one approach, land 16 minutes early, and touch down with minimum fuel without having planned for the well known "extra fuel" that will be required to get into Kennedy? My speculation about the legal issues was in reference to FAR requirements for part 121 aircraft on an IFR flight plan. If the flight indeed landed with so little fuel, what happened to the legally required reserves? Given the "facts" as presented here, it sounds like the Captain had to declare the emergency. I'm trying to learn something so I still wonder; what led to the emergency and did he do the right thing? Clearly, there are a lot of ways to answer the last question. It will be interesting to see how the FAA handles it.

Posted by: John Hayes | May 13, 2010 8:20 PM    Report this comment

I have followed this incident with interest, on the various aviation message boards. Opinions are all over the place. My observations, as a 5500 HR ATP/MEI and company check-airman at my employer, are:

1. Was the fuel state ever declared to ATC? I simply don't know, but it appears it was not. If not, why not?

2. The crew, not the tower, said "If we don't get XX, we will declare an emergency". This exchange sounds like they are in a urinating contest with tower and will win it by claiming the E-word.

3. I associate emergency with life, death, or serious injury is possible. Now, a 767 out of gas clearly qualifies. But the declaration did not occur until the last minute, when tower offered the wind report and the crew then declared it. Just based on this, it looks like the wind was the "trigger event" for the declaration.

4. 91.3 does NOT "end the discussion." Since we all can agree to disagree that the winds were the causal factor of the emergency and runway change, there was no reason for the flight to NOT fly RH as directed by ATC. There was no reason the crew could not have proceeded on RH as this had nothing to do with the causal factor of the emergency. ATC still has to keep planes from swapping paint. The emergency was declared on final, surprising ATC. Now imagine a 767 making a left turn, while possible traffic conflicts exist.

It is my opinion that the crew was unprofessional and this could have been handled in another manner.

Posted by: B Prichard | May 13, 2010 11:02 PM    Report this comment

John Hayes - Now that you have admitted that you do NOT know all of the facts why don't you wait until they are made available. You did criticize his flight planning and legality. Maybe he was vectored 100 nm out of his way at low atitude like you were.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 13, 2010 11:31 PM    Report this comment

Any crosswind limit in an airline operations manual is a hard limit for those pilots flying that metal. Even if the limit is higher at other companies, the stated limit at the company you work for is the only one for you. If an airline pilot violates that limit, and the aircraft is involved in some incident during that time, then the pilots flying that aircraft are DONE. They don't have a leg to stand on when trying to explain their actions to the FAA or even the company. These guys were put into a situation where they were going to be 'bullied' into accepting a clearance to land on a runway that had become unacceptable. They declared an emergency in order to interject some Captain's Authority into the situation to force a landing on a safer runway. Maybe they knew from past experience that ATC would provide an unacceptably excessive delay for 31R landing authorization. Maybe they didn't have the planned fuel onboard for this particular kind of unexpected delay. And, just maybe, they did NOT want to dip into their 45 min. reserve for this kind of situation. You "civilians" probably can't understand it right now, but those pilots did the right thing at the time. They were doing their jobs in ensuring the safest flight possible. Maybe they could have been a bit more diplomatic about it, such as flying the assigned heading. They had already declared by then, so the additional delay would have been minimal. In any event, they did their job as they saw it at the time.

Posted by: James Bartlett | May 14, 2010 12:34 AM    Report this comment

As I see it the problem arose do to incomplete information communicated to the tower by the AA flight crew.

Had the flight crew simply stated "Unable runway 22 require immediate vectors to 31R due to critical fuel" I think to whole "E" word drama could have been avoided.

But hey, that would have left us with nothing to bitch about.

Posted by: Mike Williams | May 14, 2010 1:30 AM    Report this comment

Mike Williams-Well said. The debate on landing 22R is unnecessary. It exceeds limits and is not worth discussing. The debate on PIC authority to declare an emergency when he feels it is needed-not worth discussing. These are both facts well in evidence and quite frankly, indisputable. What does deserve mention and discussion is the part between those items so as to come to a possible consensus as to how best to deal with this in the future in the safest possible manner. There is still the possibility that some other problem resurfaced, which could even be security related, that could be part of the equation of all the facts not still in evidence.

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | May 14, 2010 7:41 AM    Report this comment

A little more illumination.

When talking to JFK approach the crews will generally give their remaining time in minutes to the controller. I can't recall anyone using "MIN FUEL" at JFK. The radio dialogue might go something like this:

"Kennedy Approach, American 2, we've got 10 minutes before we divert"

"American 2, Kennedy Approach, we'll get you in before that" -or- "American 2 Kennedy Approach, it'll be 20 minutes minimum. Let me know when you want to divert."

Once released from holding and given vectors to the runway we are switched up to JFK Tower. I don't usually pass the "time to divert" since the runway is in sight and I am preparing to land. If a missed approach occurs then the "Emergency" is declared and the divert is initiated. A divert for a VMC airport is not in our flight plan and is a calculation done by the crew.

Posted by: Mark Anderson | May 14, 2010 11:52 AM    Report this comment

Mark Anderson,

You are not going to convince the pilot wannabes, laptop pilots or the frustrated check airmen on this blog. Those who have never experienced situations like AA#2's, or in a never ending hold at Bovingdon with a fuel totalizer they couldn't quite trust will not accept your reasonable explanations. Aviation history is full of statistics on bravado pilots who thought limits were for sissies or the ones who did not know their own.
I mentioned in my earlier post "we do not have all the facts" and should not jump into any conclusions. I used to cringe every time a so called "expert" jumped in front of a camera and concluded the cause of an accident when the picture of the smoldering wreckage was still showing in the background!
This PIC made a courageous decision at the time and not a drop of Club Soda (if they are still served on airlines these days) was spilled!

Captain Ross "Rusty" Aimer (UAL Ret.)
Aviation Experts, LLC
San Clemente, CA

Posted by: Ross Aimer | May 14, 2010 1:58 PM    Report this comment

As an "old school" controller I have no reservations supporting any pilots' decision to decline the assigned runway regardless of the reason.
The controller did hear the pilot correctly when he understood him to say that IF he could not land on 31R he would (at some point in the future) declare an emergency.
The pilot clearly overstepped his authority when he said that he was declaring an emergency and landing on 31R ON HIS TERMS.
The word "minimum" does not appear in Mr. Bertorelli's blog and in fact doesn't appear until the 31st reply to it. Where on earth did you guys conclude that AAL2 had any fuel issue whatsoever?
The pilot is unquestionably in command of the aircraft he is flying BUT, absent a compelling reason (such as minimum fuel), is not in charge of airport operations.
This pilot may have had a compelling reason to land on this runway but, in this case, he had no authority whatsoever to say WHEN he would land there. That would be (or would have been) MY job.

Bob Merrilees - Retired ATC - LIT/IAH/BAY/SCT

Posted by: Bob Merrilees | May 14, 2010 5:24 PM    Report this comment

Bob, congrats on being old school. Sorry to dissappoint you but once the captain declared the emergency he owned the airspace between his aircraft and the runway of his choice AND he owned the right to choose when he would land on his runway of choice. Neither of those perogatives would be your job in this case. Enjoy your retirement.

Posted by: John Kliewer | May 14, 2010 10:05 PM    Report this comment

John K.

We're not talking old school - we're talking new school.

Why declare an immediate EMERGENCY when there are other options to try first?

Had the tower not complied in a reasonable time to the AA flights clear and concise needs then an EMERGENCY could have been resorted to.

Give the guys on the ground a compelling reason to act exclusively on your behalf and they more then likely will respond to your concerns in earnest.

They are subject to the same FAA scrutiny as are we.

Posted by: Mike Williams | May 15, 2010 12:02 AM    Report this comment

As a JFK approach controller who was watching this happen I hope I can clarify a few things. So far as I know no fuel problem was ever reported, if there was a fuel emergency that he was unable to divert or could take zero delay in being re vectored for the airport then the pilot was at fault for letting it get to that point, he was told what runway to expect long before he was ever near the airport and knew the wind conditions at the time.

Declaring an emergency is absolutely fine, however when he simply turned immediately and informed the tower he WOULD be landing and everyone better get out of the way, that is totally unacceptable. During our busy arrival times the tower often taxies multiple aircraft onto the unused runways to wait for their departure times, in this situation obviously that was not the case, but what happens when the pilot comes around and there are upwards of ten to fifteen aircraft sitting on the runway and now he has to go around AGAIN burning more fuel and potentially putting the passengers in more danger if there actually was a fuel situation.

The pilot did the wrong things for the right reasons

Posted by: Dan Sedman | May 16, 2010 3:58 AM    Report this comment

Ok here's a take from a GA pilot on the sidelines. It seems that the Captain declared an emergency for no reason. NO fuel emergency was ever mentioned. Perhaps in the follow up we'll find out if that was the case but for now let's assume there was not any fuel problem. The Captain seemed to want to prove a point that he was the PIC and was going to do what he wanted. Please explain to this low time GA guy why he could not simply get into the flow for 31L. I get the point that the Capt has final say as to the safety of flight but I would say his decision to have the area cleared ready or not here I come was was a wrong way to declare an emergency. I have flown into airports with crosswinds exceeding my airplanes capability but most all of the time it was a simple matter to get a different runway or to land at a different airport that was more suitable. So from my GA attitude here I think the Capt overstepped the use of declaring at the possible cost of endangering other aircraft going into JFK at that time. Now, when he declared the emergency why didn't the controller ask for fuel and souls on board? Wouldn't have that given the controller a clear understanding if fuel was an issue? But like always the complete story is still to be told.

Posted by: Ralph Lacomba | May 16, 2010 7:41 AM    Report this comment

>>Please explain to this low time GA guy why he could not simply get into the flow for 31L.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 17, 2010 8:20 AM    Report this comment

For Ralph - 31L was closed!

Why don't all of you wait until ALL of the facts are known?

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 17, 2010 9:39 AM    Report this comment

Why don't all of you wait until ALL of the facts are known?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 17, 2010 11:24 AM    Report this comment

If I'm not mistaken I believe that the NTSB investigates accidents. The FAA and the company involved would more likely be the ones interested in learning the facts regarding this incident. I think it is also fair to say that neither of these parties would make premature judgements.

Posted by: ROBERT TERBET JR. | May 17, 2010 3:12 PM    Report this comment

Interesting dynamic here displayed by certain folks.
Any criticism of the captain gets labeled as a rush to judgment.
Wholehearted support of said captain (in the light of the exact same dearth of facts) gets a pass.

Posted by: Glenn Killinger | May 17, 2010 3:42 PM    Report this comment

Nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. Based on what has appeared on this forum, it is hard for me to avoid the conclusion that this was either: A) An emergency declared in the heat of the moment after a verbal game of chicken with the controllers, or B) An emergency declared because of a marginal fuel plan. Note that neither of these possibilities has anything to do with the right of the captain to declare and use his emergency authority. I can't resist a final comment: The interesting dynamic that I have observed on this board is how quickly some of the participants became heated--resorting to unnecessary name calling, speculation, and accusations with an inability to stick to a civil discussion of the issues. We may never have ALL the facts, but with an eyewitness, data from FlkghtAware, and a number of experienced 767 captains, there have been plenty of opportunities to learn something from the discussion. With that; I'm done. (Paul...thanks for getting this going and for putting up with it!)

Posted by: John Hayes | May 17, 2010 5:16 PM    Report this comment

More than 130 entries have been made in this series since mine on May 10th. More than 50 of you have taken the opportunity to read...
...and none have mentioned that I did not spell 'Idlewild' correctly. Thanks.

Posted by: Paul Niquette | May 17, 2010 6:05 PM    Report this comment

Well, what a fascinating discussion and as Mr. Hayes says just above, another insight, as if we need one in this media-frenzy culture of ours, into how uncivil people can become, instead of joining in the discussion with a clearly stated point of view. I've really grown tired too of the "I'm right, you're an idiot, hang those bastids!" mentality.

Posted by: James Lawrence | May 17, 2010 6:26 PM    Report this comment

(contd from above...where does it say 1500 characters max? I wrote a bunch of stuff and only then it told me it was 1800 characters too long! Arrgh...)

Also very interesting to me how many ways there are to view an incident, any incident. This is why we love to read mysteries and court dramas and see movies about law trials...and remember Rashomon? An incident related by six different people, all with differing accounts of what they were absolutely certain they saw right before their eyes. And nobody was completely right.

To be human is to be inherently flawed in observation, which is why I suppose we make rules, then put people into a hierarchy with the top dogs given the right to break the rules, albeit with more rules given about when it's appropriate to break the first rules.


I read down through most of the comments and found my opinion changed back and forth so many times, I realized how complex things can get, so quickly.

Lots to consider. What for instance was the pilot's true state of mind and emotional reserves after a long flight? And how truthful, in retrospect, under "interrogation" after self-reflection, is that pilot likely to be? Or the controller, who got his priorities handed to him, shredded, on a plate?

Posted by: James Lawrence | May 17, 2010 6:34 PM    Report this comment

part 3 or 3, sheesh, what's a guy gotta do to vent his spleen around here? ;-)

IMHO, and it is indeed humble because I'm not an airline pilot: If what's been said above is accurate about emergency needings needing to be of the "No options, airplane must come down now!" variety, then it does indeed seem the pilot was in a "I'm not getting screwed with today!" mentality...which sounds like ego first, safety second, and therefore censurable by appropriate authority.

At the same time, the passengers are all safe. Isn't that of supreme value?

At the same time, that pilot could have inadvertently caused an accident.

At the same time, don't we want our captains and controllers to always come down on the safety side first, and traffic flow/airport ops second? I sure as hell do.

If the AA spec was 49 instead of 29 knots direct cross, but the pilot for whatever reason felt it was unsafe, he has to have and assume that supreme authority. Absolutely no doubt in my mind about that.

Final comment: I'd probably want to see the FAA sit down in a quiet room out back of the woodshed with the pilot and controller together and have a good talk with both of them about keeping their egos out of the airspace: the one common impression I keep returning to is the pilot's insistence on shaking off his reins and landing, by declaring a non-emergency emergency, it what seems was not a "legal" emergency. That seems like a very bad precedent to set.

Posted by: James Lawrence | May 17, 2010 6:35 PM    Report this comment

I normally don't repost once I've weighed in on a thread. I find it keeps arguments about stupid things to a minimum, or at least keeps me from contributing to it. However I have to do it this time, because I forgot to uncheck the email-me box when I posted the first time. On this of all threads... Isn't technology wonderful.

Posted by: Glenn Killinger | May 17, 2010 8:06 PM    Report this comment

Ok it was 31R my error. If he did have a low fuel situation I would understand his need to land asap. However, I had not heard that on the clip. But like I said when all the facts are in, then we can talk a bit more about it.

Posted by: Ralph Lacomba | May 18, 2010 8:20 AM    Report this comment

One of the "soft" facts here that is maybe the most important, is what the captain thought was going on in the head of the controller. I have been in busy traffic patterns and seen myself a declaration of emergency get no expedited handling from the tower - in fact a request for the emergency aircraft to extend downwind to get more airplanes in, in case it ties up the runway. I've been the captain on too many trips into JFK with a 25 mile trip to the south followed by a 25 mile final. Any way you look at it, if the captain didn't have faith in the controller to take care of him then he was making the right decision.

Posted by: Christopher Marks | May 19, 2010 3:36 PM    Report this comment

There is one simple fact here. Once the Captain has declared an emergency, he can do what ever he deems prudent to get the airplane on the ground safely. The Captain should not have had to tell the controller to clear the airspace, the controller should have done it automatically. Fly runway heading was inappropriate. When a controller makes a mistake and an airplane crashes, the controller still goes home to his/her family. As the PIC, I have final authority for the flight, and I live with the consequences.

Posted by: Paul Krasa | May 20, 2010 7:09 AM    Report this comment

It is this arrogance that paints us as "prima donnas" and inevitably works against us. I restate my experience, 11 years ATC with 6 years FAA tower and radar and 22 years experience 121 Capt and Check Airman operating 757 and 767 out of JFK. The Captain had not declared an emergency prior to being given runway heading. If there were a C172 or a helicopter operating southeast of JFK when the Cpt said he was turning southeast for his discretionary turn he might have produced a significantly greater event than the one we are discussing. Picture yourself as the controller with traffic to the southeast, both a helo and a GA A/C that were not a factor as the operation was a 22L Arr and 31R Dep. Now, unbenounced to you, one of your airplanes says he is turning into one or both of them on their own with no prior expectation. When he elects to fireball crash with one of them how much of it is your fault? Keep an open mind with what all the possibilities are when coming to a conclusion with only the stated and unsubstantiated facts. As I have stated previously there is no question with refusing 22R. I would have done the same. There is no question with a Captain's authority to declare an emergency when he feels it is necessary. It is the inbetween that is the consideration here.

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | May 20, 2010 10:06 PM    Report this comment

I think Paul B stirred up this pot by implying there is such a thing as a "soft, or paper emergency." Show me in this in writing. Once an emergency has been declared it is black and white. It is not for the controller to question why. We if the PIC had declared minimum fuel from the information provided in the original post, but it has been stated earlier that the situation existed. With that said I think the following adds information to the thread. See: "IFR Magazine" article on subject.
According to FAA order 7110.65, Air Traffic Control:
If an aircraft declares a state of “minimum fuel,”
inform any facility to whom control jurisdiction is
transferred of the minimum fuel problem and be alert
for any occurrence which might delay the aircraft
enroute. NOTE Use of the term “minimum fuel” indicates recognition by a pilot that his/her fuel supply has reached a state where,upon reaching destination, he/she cannot accept any undue delay. This is not an emergency situation but merely an advisory that indicates an emergency situation is possible should any undue delay occur. A minimum fuel advisory does not imply a need for traffic priority. Common sense and good judgment will determine the extent of assistance to be given in minimum fuel situations. If, at any time, the remaining usable fuel supply suggests the need for traffic priority to ensure a safe landing, the pilot should declare an emergency and report fuel remaining in minutes.

Posted by: Paul Krasa | May 25, 2010 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Provide maximum assistance to aircraft in distress.
Enlist the services of available radar facilities and DF facilities operated by the FAA, the military services, and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as their emergency services and facilities, when the pilot requests or when you deem necessary.
Section 2. Emergency Assistance
a. Start assistance as soon as enough information
has been obtained upon which to act. Information
requirements will vary, depending on the existing
situation. Minimum required information for inflight
emergencies is:
1. Aircraft identification and type.
2. Nature of the emergency.
3. Pilot's desires.
b. After initiating action, obtain the following
items or any other pertinent information from the
pilot or aircraft operator, as necessary:
1. Aircraft altitude.
2. Fuel remaining in time.
3. Pilot reported weather.
4. Pilot capability for IFR flight.
5. Time and place of last known position.
6. Heading since last known position.
7. Airspeed.
8. Navigation equipment capability.
9. NAVAID signals received.
10. Visible landmarks.
11. Aircraft color.
12. Number of people on board.
13. Point of departure and destination.
14. Emergency equipment on board

Posted by: Paul Krasa | May 25, 2010 10:51 AM    Report this comment

In light of this information and on a similar note it is the same runway that on Jan 25, 1990 Avianca crashed with fuel exhaustion. Speaking as a former controller that has had an aircraft crash while being worked by me from the tower on my frequency a minimum fuel advisory would most likely be treated as a semi emergency as no controller wants to be anything close to an eventful shift.
Holding, as captain, in a 757 arriving JFK over CAMRN about 10 years ago I had the opportunity to help out my company 737 holding 1000 feet above me by telling the controller that he should release my company from the hold before me. I passed on to NY Center on 118.97? that I had 15 minutes more fuel than him and that I wanted him to go in first. I have never, ever, heard of this situation happening before and I'm sure neither did he. He knew we were monitoring company frequency together and when I told him to let company go in ahead of me, he passed it on to the TRACON who did not want Shit from Shinolah to have anything to do with a potential fuel situation and he let us both in simultaneously. In actuality I lied about my 15 minutes more fuel. However, in light of Avianca, I knew it would get his attention and at least minimize our potential holding time and allow my fuel conscious company above me to be accommodated. I don't advocate forwarding misleading information as I was prepared to divert to ACY, but my company aircraft was planning to divert shortly to BDL, his filed alternate.

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | May 25, 2010 11:59 AM    Report this comment

It is vital that Pilots (PIC's) recognize THEY ARE IN COMMAND. ATC is a service. They are not the final authority to a flight. Period. That is how it is, how it should be, and what is proper and correct.

I think it is excellent the AA Pilot did what was correct and proper and told ATC what he wanted.

There needs to be better education and understanding amongst the Pilot and ATC communities that ultimately IT IS THE PIC who is in charge. No questions asked!

Posted by: Erik Fulkerson | May 26, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

I think Paul B stirred up this pot by implying there is such a thing as a "soft, or paper emergency." Show me in this in writing. Once an emergency has been declared it is black and white.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 26, 2010 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul. I read IFR every month. 99.99% of the time I see things as shades of gray. In this case, I see it as black and white. A declared emergency is a declared emergency. If ambiguity has crept into the system, then it needs to be eliminated. Even the perception of when an emergency should be declared seems to be different between the pilot community and the controller community. Even in the recent IFR article, it references how controllers give priority handling to aircraft declaring minimum fuel even though it is not required. So, are you saying you didn't stir the pot for the sake of discussion. ;-)

Posted by: Paul Krasa | May 26, 2010 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Until the official FAA/AA report is released, might it not be worthwhile to apply a prescinding analysis (see Step 5 at

Posted by: Paul Niquette | May 26, 2010 1:53 PM    Report this comment

How about an "Urgency" situation, in addition to the current urgency broadcasts?

Posted by: John Hogan | July 12, 2010 12:44 AM    Report this comment

Has the FAA released any information on this yet?

Posted by: Paul Feller | March 2, 2011 6:40 AM    Report this comment

It is not something they relish dealing with as it is a double edged sword. They don't want to set the precedent of questioning a Captain's ability to declare an emergency while at the same time cannot encourage chaos in the traffic pattern by possible multiple events at the same time creating a worse situation. The unknown element is the real situation of the fuel having not declared "minimum fuel" or "emergency fuel."

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | March 2, 2011 6:53 AM    Report this comment

As the DIC of your sub compact on the way to the hospital a DRIVER may also run red lights at railroad crossings, but it may not be a good idea as there are consequences. As a 121 PIC for 22 years I know I am in charge, however, prudent exercise is warranted. Incidentally, don't even try to declare an emergency outside the states as they won't even know what you're talking about.

Posted by: Joe Horwatt | March 21, 2011 5:14 AM    Report this comment

(Almost a year later and could not find investigation results but this discussion *certainly* needed yet ANOTHER Robert. Let's see if this really takes six posts to get around the 1,500 word limit.)

There are not just two possibilities here for the PIC in receipt of landing directions to 22L with 35-knot crosswind gusts. I read every word and got halfway through these posts before Shawn Knight posted one of the shortest notes here: "Why is it that so many think landing on 22 or declare an emergency were the only two choices?"

Quite right. If "unable" is distinct from and does not equate to "emergency" (and it seems this is the case), there are, instead, at least three main possibilities:

1) Reply "unable" and begin cooperation with ATC to resolve the matter.
When would be indicated: 22L not workable due to gusts exceeding AA operating limits
When would be not indicated: inflight emergency requiring immediate action IAW FAR 91.3(b)

2) Declare an emergency and deviate at will to runway of choice.
When would be indicated: 22L not workable AND fuel too low to get in line for 31R
When would be not indicated: if sufficient fuel to await vectors to 31R

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:46 PM    Report this comment

3) Declare an emergency and await and accept vectors to 31R.
When would be indicated: (frankly, I'm having a hard time answering this)
When would be not indicated: inflight emergency requiring immediate action IAW FAR 91.3(b) yet PIC had fuel to accept vectors to 31R. This combination doesn't seem to fit into the realm of possibility. [Are other emergencies within the realm of possibility? Sure. But if any of them did apply, this entire discussion is moot, so, for the purposes of this discussion, there is no point hypothesizing other emergencies applied.]

Then, even though possibility 3 has been discussed here repeatedly, it isn't likely it could have applied, because "emergency" would almost exclusively *IN THIS CASE* equate to "low fuel prohibits other options".

If fuel was an issue, possibility 2 applies.
(Though fuel concerns of the pilot are conspicuously absent on the recording, the plane did finish with only 6.5k pounds. Another internet discussion says the "low fuel" lamp on the 767 lights at 2,200 pounds but I'm only mentioning it, not verifying it. So that's, say, 20 minutes remaining at 12k+ lbs/hr?)
If fuel was not an issue, possibility 1 applies.
It is unlikely possibility three ("I have an emergency but I have plenty of fuel") could apply.

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:47 PM    Report this comment

But is that (regardless of accuracy) the full extent of what we can take away from this event? Not at all. I'm not a pilot (though an admitted wannabe; perhaps some day) but I am a former US Navy reactor operator, so I give a big shout out and AMEN to those who understand what it means to be at the controls with everyone's safety on one's shoulders and the responsibility and authority that must accrue to that position. My division went into the toilet when our newly arrived and worthless lead Petty Officer (NCO) neglected that we had been trained to stand our ground against bad calls by senior personnel in matters of safety and he instead began screaming about who we were and were not permitted to argue with. People who say seniority means immunity from criticism are dangerous in engineering and science matters. New 'Officers Of the Watch' came to us as newbies and then were eventually graduated up out of the engine room to do tactical stuff, so my division were the only constants the reactor had until you got to the Ship's Engineer. We may have been enlisted low lifes but we only sat in The Big Chair because we knew our shit cold and were comfortable when necessary making that clear to inexperienced officers. If we didn't, if we were not at one-hundred percent with our skills, we had no business sitting in front of that panel. Our temporary supervising officers knew it. We blueshirted reactor pros knew it. No egos entered the picture and we all got along.

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:48 PM    Report this comment

We were required, incidentally, to be extremely precise in our communications, much like flyers.

That said, all these years later I spend a lot of time watching folks around a group discussion table at the VA grapple with interpersonal issues. The group would love this discussion. This business between AA2 and ATC was a disaster from a communications point of view. The pilot failed to adequately convey his situation to the controller. Instead, the pilot's wording made it seem a potential emergency declaration was conditional on what the controller did next -- and since when can a guy on the ground equate to an emergency in the air? It was communicated nonsensically and should have been done differently. Still, nobody's perfect. The controller, then, was also quite at fault for not conveying his understanding of the PIC's sense of urgency (possibly because he felt the PIC wasn't entitled to one), responding with a brief and not-at-all-eager note about "passing that along". The PIC would have been completely correct in thinking since the controller didn't repeat it back (i.e. didn't make clear he understood a bad situation loomed), the controller didn't "get it". The controller could have said, "Fly runway heading; expect 31R", but, still, nobody's perfect. Communications back and forth, both faulty. Time to take a deep breath and clarify.

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:49 PM    Report this comment

But then what did the pilot do as a result? Did the pilot clarify? Did the pilot re-state his needs? Did the pilot act like an adult? No. As was noted above, the pilot's declaration of emergency immediately on the heels of the controller's "passing that along" smacks of a wounded (or at least challenged) ego -- regardless of the controller's intended message. The facts may have been otherwise, but the subtext of the pilot's emergency declaration was "Who the hell do you think you are, Mr. air traffic controller?" and, unfortunately, unless something really critical is not being mentioned by AA2, there doesn't seem to be any likely way the facts could have been otherwise. When the option to clarify existed, the pilot instead puffed out his chest and asserted his sense of entitlement. Was the size of his ego *justified*? Yes. Was his ego entitled to get on the radio and huff "so THERE!"? Never. Precisely *because* the pilot gets the final say (as it should be), his ego must stay in check and cannot be allowed to grab the stick. Or the radio. It's too dangerous. Clipped communications? Don't challenge my authority? What's the worst that can happen? Tenerife? Rational, effective thought must fly the plane at all times. And a rational, effective pilot would not have responded the way this one did. Contrast that with, say, Ulysses S. Grant who struggled mightily with his emotions about battle -- and yet his emotions never gave the orders.

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:50 PM    Report this comment

Go back through these posts and sift through the assorted words in support of the pilot. I agree with almost, if not all of them. And note how many of those supportive posts center on whether his ego was justified. Surely it was. He'd earned his seat in The Big Chair. But that's irrelevant, just as neither the question of a justified emergency or the pilot's authority to declare one are truly the issue here.

I recognize a lot of myself in this pilot's voice, so I'll say this:

Big egos take big responsibility.

Big egos also must sit quietly and watch from the back of the room or they can kill hundreds. Justification schmustification: There's always room to be more calm.

Yep. Six posts.

Posted by: Robert Segal | April 27, 2011 4:52 PM    Report this comment

Hey....... Give it up. He is the Capt!!!! I don't remember too many controllers being put in body bags.

Posted by: Johnny Carter | April 27, 2011 8:26 PM    Report this comment

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