Pilots Blast NTSB Report on La Guardia Runway Excursion

 - September 14, 2016, 9:39 AM
A Delta Air Lines MD-88 taxis at New York LaGuardia Airport. (Photo: Flickr: Creative Commons (BY-SA) by Aero Icarus)

The Air Line Pilots Association has criticized the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board for what the union characterized as abandonment of a so-called “systems approach” to accident investigation in its probe of the March 5, 2015 runway excursion by a Delta Air Lines MD-88 at New York La Guardia Airport. In a report issued Tuesday detailing the probable cause of the incident, the NTSB cited the application of excessive reverse thrust during the landing, leading to a loss of directional control and causing the jet to veer off the left side of the runway.

“The NTSB’s single probable cause failed to fully and directly acknowledge the multiple factors that contributed to the accident,” said ALPA in statement. “The NTSB’s performance study in this investigation concluded that a combination of factors including asymmetric thrust, crosswind and runway friction caused the aircraft to deviate from the runway heading. As a result of the NTSB’s focus on a single probable cause, the airline industry has missed a valuable opportunity to address the multiple factors involved in the event with the goal of advancing safety.”

After veering off the runway, the MD-88 ran over a perimeter fence and came to rest with its nose on an embankment next to Flushing Bay. Of the 127 passengers on board, 29 suffered minor injuries. According to the NTSB, the captain’s inability to maintain directional control due to his application of excessive reverse thrust degraded the rudder’s effectiveness in controlling the airplane’s heading and led to the excursion.

However, ALPA noted that the NTSB’s investigation also judged the flight crew “well prepared” for the approach and their established landing requirements consistent with company policies. The Board also deemed the crew’s decision to continue their approach and landing “not inappropriate.”

“ALPA is concerned that the NTSB inadequately highlighted the lack of timely and accurate runway condition measuring and reporting information available to the pilots,” said the union. “ALPA welcomes the new voluntary Federal Aviation Administration standards and best practices for determining and reporting runway condition information, which will go into effect on October 1. The new standards mark key progress in runway condition data gathering and information sharing that ALPA has sought for decades. The new guidance will provide pilots with improved data regarding runway conditions before they are able to see the runway, enhancing the safety of air transportation for all who depend on it.”