Flight AA300 Strikes Runway Sign on Departure
American Airlines flight 300 from New York to Los Angeles had a bit of a run-in last week. The aircraft, an Airbus A321-231 (registration N114NN) was on runway 31 at JFK with 109 passengers on board when they struck a runway sign showing 5,000 feet distance remaining.
As the aircraft levelled out at FL200, 20,000 feet, the pilots reported that they needed to return, as they were experiencing “a strong roll to the left”.
Well, yes, that’s not a big surprise. Here’s a photo that’s making the rounds, credited just to “Seat 16A”.
It seems that on rotation, the left wing tip struck the sign, which became embedded in the wing. The ground marks show that the left wing tip dragged along the runway for some distance.
The flight crew contacted ATC as they leveled out at 20,000 feet, saying they’d experienced a strong roll to the left as they climbed out.
AA300: We were banking…Uncontrolled bank 45° to the left.
ATC: Turbulence from another aircraft?
AA300 I don’t think so. There’s a good crosswind, but we had an uncommanded roll to the left as we rotated.
The flight crew reported that the aircraft was fine (“flying great”) but they wanted to get it checked out.
This image from AVHerald is said to give the location of the sign.
The flight landed safely at 21:08 local time, 28 minutes after take-off.
Here’s the METAR:
00:51 UTC / 20:51 local time:
KJFK 110051Z 36017KT 10SM SCT250 10/M03 A2998 RMK AO2 SLP153 T01001028
Key info: At 00:51 UTC (20:51 local time) at JFK Airport, the visibility was good (10 statute miles) and the wind was at 360° blowing 17 knots, so a crosswind component of around thirteen knots.
Does anyone know why American aviation uses statute miles instead of nautical miles for visibility?
The runway in question, 13R-31L, is one of the longest commercial runways in North America: 14,511 feet long by 200 feet (60 metres) wide, about 4,425 metres by 60 metres. The Airbus A321 wingspan is 35.8 metres, 04 117 feet.
An A321 has a wingspan of 35.8 m, according to Wikipedia.
Assume it’s on the centerline of a 61-meter (200-foot) wide runway.
30.5 m, runway centerline to edge – 17.9, half the wingspan of an A321 = 12.6 m (41 feet), distance from wingtip to runway edge.
An A321 should have a clearance of 12.6 m, or 41 feet, from each wingtip to each edge of the runway.
From the runway edge to the sign that was struck looks like another 75 feet or so, just guessing from the image shown. Let’s call it about 22 m.
12.6 m wingtip to runway edge + 22 m runway edge to sign = 34.6 m wingtip to sign.
That would place the sign about 35 m (115 feet) from the wingtip when the aircraft is on centerline.
If all this stuff is correct then that machine must have been quite far off the runway when it hit that sign, about 120 feet laterally displaced on a runway that is 100 feet wide from centerline to edge. Wow!
A person posting on AVHerald claimed that he was on the aircraft and described the experience.
I was aboard this aircraft. The take off was fast, rather quick and felt short. Then we pitched down and banked right (left wing up) and then left (right wing up) and the back felt to skid out sideways, I was in the window seat just behind the left wing. Then it felt like the pilot pulled the aircraft up manually. He continued to make very strong left and right banks while in the air before we circled back to JFK. He made an announcement that we had a major computer failure, but that he had control of the airplane and that we’ll be making an emergency landing. I watched the metal flap (runway sign) above the wing the whole 43 mins we were in the air.
Making an announcement blaming computer problems while the aircraft was banking left and right seems a bit odd, especially in light of the Boeing 737 MAX issues. As the crew said at that point that the aircraft was flying fine, I wonder if they were testing to try to correct the 45° bank. Based on the ATC calls, they didn’t know their wing was broken and carrying a sign, although the passenger claims that it was visible for the full flight. Knowing two planes had nosedived after a series of unexpected manoeuvres, I wonder how many of them feared that it was an MCAS issue, as it’s been all over the news.
Certainly, plenty of people seem to believe that the initial bank or wingdrop was somehow connected to the recent fatal crashes; I’m seeing a lot of accusations that this, also, is the result of too much automation and bad software.
It seems unlikely but we simply don’t know exactly happened. The NTSB is investigating it as an accident. They’ve formed a team of six with support from the FAA, American Airlines, the Allied Pilots Association and the French BEA with Airbus as their technical advisor. The NTSB is not planning to send investigators to the scene, which surprised me, but they seem to feel the data recorders will give them all the information they need. As there are some scrapes on the ground, I’m surprised, though I guess the photographs will tell them what they need to know.