NTSB Strips American Airlines of Party Status in Overrun Investigation

 - January 3, 2011, 7:01 AM

The NTSB excused American Airlines from further participation in the investigation of a December 29, 2010 runway overrun of one of its Boeing 757s in Jackson Hole, Wyo., after the airline accessed flight data recorder (FDR) data before transporting it to Safety Board labs in Washington, D.C. NTSB protocol calls for airlines involved in such incidents to transport the FDR and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) directly to Washington “without delay and without accessing the information contained within them by any means.” During its investigation, the NTSB learned that American had flown the FDR and CVR to Tulsa, Okla., where airline technicians downloaded information from the FDR; they did not access the CVR.

“Although a thorough examination by our investigators determined that no information from the DFDR (digital flight data recorder) was missing or altered in any way, the breach of protocol by American Airlines personnel violates the Safety Board’s standards of conduct for any organization granted party status in an NTSB investigation,” said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman. “Because maintaining and enforcing strict investigative protocols and procedures is vital to the integrity of our investigative processes, we have revoked the party status of American Airlines and excused them from further participation in this incident investigation.”

Nevertheless, the NTSB said it would provide American Airlines with “any and all” information it needs to ensure a timely response to any operational safety deficiencies uncovered during the course of the investigation. Meanwhile, American has assured the NTSB that it would undertake a full review of proper procedures and internal controls to ensure that it does not breach protocol in such a way again.

The December 29 incident involved American Airlines Flight 2253, a Boeing 757-200, inbound from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The airplane, carrying 181 crew and passengers, ran off the end of Jackson Hole Airport’s Runway 19 in snowy conditions and came to rest in hard packed snow some 350 feet beyond the end of the runway overrun area. None of the occupants sustained injuries and initial inspection revealed no structural damage to the aircraft.

The CVR and FDR arrived at the Safety Board’s recorder laboratory on the evening of December 30. The CVR provided a two-hour recording of “excellent” quality audio, according to the NTSB, and the FDR yielded 1,200 recorded parameters of flight data and captured the entire incident.

The pilots told investigators that they saw the runway before reaching minimum descent altitude. Both characterized the flight and approach as uneventful before the runway overrun. The first officer was the flying pilot.