Pilot Narrowly Averts Disaster After Runway Accident

Last year, pilots of an American Airlines jet taxied across a tarmac as a Delta Airlines jet rumbled down the runway intending to take off.

Both the captain and co-pilot of the Delta jet were disoriented and confused. The co-pilot didn’t see where they were as the captain tried to disseminate confusing instructions from the tower.

An air traffic controller yelled expletives at the Delta Air Lines plane to abort their takeoff, preventing the catastrophe. The event occurred on January 13, 2023 (Friday the 13th), at JFK Airport in NYC.

This was just one of several near-misses at American airports that frightened citizens and policymakers to the point that the FAA convened a “safety summit” last year.

En route to London, the American Airlines’ Boeing 777 made an improper turn on a taxiway that ran parallel to two runways that were at 90-degree angles to each other. Initially, they were supposed to take off from runway 31L, but a controller instructed them to taxi over runway 31L and take off from runway 4L instead.

All three pilots stated in subsequent interviews that they were aware the plane would be taking off from runway 4L. However, the aircraft made it over 4L as a Delta 737 rolled out for departure on the same runway.

Michael Graber, the Delta captain, stated that he became concerned when he noticed the red runway lights turning on just as the jet crossed the center of runway 4L. The lights are a warning that the runway is occupied.

The AA captain decided to taxi into runway 4L, which caught co-pilot Traci Gonzalez off guard, as Gonzalez claimed to have known the entire time they intended to cross runway 31L.

The Delta pilots were able to come to a complete stop, and the crew refrained from informing American Airlines when they took off. On the six-hour journey to London, the cockpit audio recorder from the American airliner was taped over, rendering it permanently lost.

Since cockpit speech recordings are routinely taped over after two hours due to their operation on loops, the study reiterated previous suggestions that the FAA mandate improved retention of these recordings.

After much pressure from the NTSB, the FAA finally agreed to a proposal to prevent recordings from being overwritten for 25 hours, but only on newly registered planes.