Pilots Pull Rank, Declare Emergency At JFK (With Audio)


The crew of American Airlines Flight 2, a Boeing 767 out of Los Angeles for New York, ultimately declared an emergency while trying to land in strong crosswinds at JFK, May 4, after apparently being denied their runway of choice. Speaking for the JFK Controller union, Steve Abraham told ABC news the pilot “had no choice. He couldn’t land 22L, it would have been illegal for him,” due to the crosswind. Wind was 320 at 23 gusting to 35, at the time. JFK’s main runway, 31 Left, has been closed for upgrades for about eight weeks, and controllers say that maintaining the flow of traffic at the airport has led to some less than ideal clearances. FAA spokesman Arlene Sarlac told AVweb Thursday that the agency studied the situation “for over a year” prior to closing the runway and worked with airlines who “agreed to reduce their schedules during this closure time.” The FAA says the situation at JFK is safe. After receiving their clearance, the crew of American Flight 2 said, “We can’t land on 22,” adding, “We’re breaking off approach and if you don’t give us to Runway 31R, we’re going to declare an emergency.” The controller responded “alright, I’ll pass it along, fly runway heading for now.” At that point, things got more serious.

The pilots immediately responded, “OK we’ve declared an emergency, we’re going to land 31 Right. We’re going to the left and then we’re coming around.” The controller acknowledged the call and told the crew to “just fly runway heading.” Exchanges followed and the crew ultimately announced, “Remove everybody from our way. We’ve declared an emergency.” At that point, the controller cleared American Flight 2 for the landing on 31 Right. JFK’s 14,572 foot-long 13R/31L, was closed in March to undergo a four-month-long facelift that includes widening and repaving. The closure is expected to last through June and means that traffic must be diverted to the airport’s three remaining runways. Controllers say the American Airlines event shows that maintaining the traffic flow, without incurring delays, has presented challenges. According to the FAA, the situation was studied ahead of time, the airlines are flying on reduced schedules and operations at the airport are safe. The FAA is investigating the incident and will “look into all of the air traffic procedures and operations at the time of the incident, as well as the actions of the crew.”

Click for audio (MP3 file).

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