American A321 Still Grounded Six Months After “Incident”

Filed Under: American

In mid-April I wrote about a pretty terrifying incident that happened on an American Airlines flight bound from New York to Los Angeles. The flight was operated by one of American’s special A321T aircraft in a premium heavy configuration, featuring just 102 seats (including 10 first class seats, 20 business class seats, and 72 economy class seats).

Long story short, apparently the plane “rolled” to the left as it took off, causing the left wing to hit something during takeoff. However, the pilots didn’t realize it for quite a while — as the plane passed through 20,000 feet, the pilots asked air traffic control to return to the airport.

As the pilot described it to the controller, the plane “had a strong roll to the left,” and the plane was fine but they just wanted to “return to Kennedy to have them check it out.” In the meantime the pilot also told passengers that they were returning to the airport because there was a computer malfunction.

If you want to hear the audio of the incident, you can do so here:

Anyway, there was a lot of discussion about just how severe this incident was, so I’ve been keeping an eye on the tail number that operated this flight.

Some might be interested to hear that over six months after the incident, the plane is still grounded. N114NN, the plane that operated this flight, hasn’t operated any flight since it returned to JFK on April 10.

I followed up with American about this, and they’ve informed me that it’s still grounded as part of the NTSB investigation. This must be quite an involved repair and investigation, and I’ll be curious to see when the plane flies again.

Meanwhile in the recent case of the Delta 757 that had a very rough landing in the Azores, the plane was able to be ferried back to the US just over a month after the incident, which surprised a lot of people. It looks like on October 13 the plane was ferried to Nazca, so I’m curious to see what happens with the plane from there…

Are you surprised that the American A321 is still grounded from April?

  1. That Delta plane is confusing, because the destination of Nazca is in Peru, which is a much longer flight than it took. If you watch the live tracking of the flight, it looks like it landed at Cecil Airport near Jacksonville, Florida.

  2. I do find it odd that the crew didn’t seem to report the issue until 20,000ft (but, I’m not an expert, so the fact that I find it odd doesn’t mean anything). Has there been any suggestion that the damage was present before take-off? The reason I ask is that it seems like any event significant enough to cause that kind of damage would have been noticed and at a minimum I would have thought that the crew would have reported to Kennedy, so that a/p opps could have done a runway sweep before the next arrival or departure. I would assume (as a layman ) that for the aircraft to be grounded this long as part of an investigation, the investigation must be unusually involved. So yes, I find the whole incident interesting.

  3. What is the point of this story? An AA vs. DL argument? Obviously the AA A321T was heavily damaged, there needs to be an investigation. The DL incident in PDL clearly was a different issue altogether.

  4. Americans were very quick to say third world pilots can’t fly the Max that’s why they crashed. Well, looks like American pilots can’t fly an Airbus. Makes you think.

  5. @Mgb123

    In an emergency, Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

    I assume they were just ensuring they had the aircraft in the most flyable configuration before making the decision and call. Bit of a dark joke but the saying is that inexperienced pilots die with their hand on the radio.

  6. Why did you put quotation marks around “incident?” It does not approach the level of an accident, given that there were no injuries and the plane landed normally.

  7. What does it mean to “ferry a plane” back home, in the Delta case….?

    Is the plane dismantled, or does it sit atop a larger plane as they sometimes would fly the Space Shuttle atop a specially equipped 747?

  8. John, a ferry flight is non revenue from a>b no pax or cabin crew just pilots.
    So the DL plane can fly, just they want to make sure it is in perfect shape before they put multiple bodies on board.

  9. We had an incident years back in CLT, Ops was doing their overnight r/w inspection and found dirt, grass and just a lot of earth strewn about 200′ on the r/w. They also found three edge lights taken out. ATC and the ramp tower did not have any information so Ops checks every RON on the hardstand and the gates. Well they find an AA MD88 sitting on the gate with the left main covered in grass and dirt.. Airport control calls DFW and they didn’t receive any incident reports, not sure what the outcome was with the crew, but my guys got the call to get the airfield back in shape…

  10. “… apparently the plane ‘rolled’ to the left right as it took off, causing the left wing to hit something during takeoff … the pilot also told passengers that they were returning to the airport because there was a computer malfunction.” —

    So where are the outcries to have all of the A321 aircraft type get globally grounded until that “computer malfunction” can be analyzed and then the entire A321 aircraft type get RE-certified before being allowed to fly passengers, once more? When the left wing “hits something during takeoff” (and it’s *not* pilot error), that’s somehow *not* considered worthy of global concern? Gotta wait until some passengers actually *die* before *potential flaws* in the aircraft (whether software or hardware) can get attention? Can’t be more PRO-active about safety? Some kind of global HYPOCRISY going on, with this slack treatment of Airbus vs. Boeing? Curious minds want to know! :-#

  11. Bill I find the A321T safe. I took it after the incident. I would rather take it than the 767-300 any day. That one and the 200 always had problems.

  12. I took the A321T after the incident. It is still my favorite American Airlines plane. It is way better than the 767-200. That one always had problems.

  13. Yes. Anytime you see anything going to Nazca it goes to Cecilfield code VQQ to Flightstar Aircraft Services. It’s an MRO. I used to work there on the delta line. We work on their 757’s and the T-tails.

  14. @billC
    Consider the limited concern after the lionair max crash, and then let me point out that this is an aircraft that proved airworthy to a certain extent then dial down your concern.

  15. @Tennessee Reed — “I find the A321T safe. I took it after the incident.”

    That’s great! I’m actually not trying to dissuade anyone from flying on A321s, but was being “sarcastic” about how we won’t know about an aircraft’s actual safety until after it’s been in operation for many years, and, even then, unexpected things can still occur (eg AF 447 — an Airbus 330 after that model family already had 15.5 years of revenue service). Remember that the MAX was also considered “safe” until 2 unexpectedly crashed with fatalities! It’s perfectly normal that new aircraft will always have that early factor of “unknown unknowns” to contend with, despite FAA’s certification process! The main issue is how those “unknowns” get addressed after anomalies occur during flights! Boeing *can* be faulted on this particular aspect!

  16. @Sunny leveson-jones — “Consider the limited concern after the lionair max crash, and then let me point out that this is an aircraft that proved airworthy to a certain extent then dial down your concern.”

    Well … here’s the thing, as I pointed out immediately prior in reply to @Tennessee Reed — the MAX should be considered to be a “new” model since it extended “features and capabilities” beyond prior models. As such, it is expected to experience that early factor of “unknown unknowns”. Nevertheless, I do agree that Boeing should have treated the Lion Air incident with higher priority than it did!

  17. Crucify Airbus! Ground their entire fleet indefinately! Investigate the certification process and string up the ESA! Most importantly, don’t place any of the blame where it belongs….with the people maintaining and flying the plane!

    -end sarcasm-

  18. Obviously a pretty boring news day for the points guy to try to pit AA against DAL with very different incidents. Hardly newsworthy and it appears that both airlines did the right thing with both jets. Points guy needs to get a real job!

  19. Believe the same plane in the incident is the 321 that’s been parked next to the AA hangars at JFK for the past few months with the engines covered.

  20. I have flown in and out of JFK on the A321-T on several occasions since April. Most recently, yesterday,12/26. The A321-T AC involved in the April roll and object strike, N114NN, remains parked next to the AA’s JFK hanger at the NW end of the field. In addition to the engines being covered, the doors are also sealed with what looks to be some type of film. At various points since April, maintenance access structures could be seen in the area of the left wing tip. Difficult to decern however, if any repairs to the wing tip and underside have been performed during the past 8 months. Having this state of the art AC
    configured exclusively for transcon routes out of service for such a long period of time has to be most aggravating for AA.

  21. It has now been 15 months since the incident. Does anybody have an update if the repairs occurred or is the plane still sitting next to the same AA hangar? I haven’t seen an NTSB report either. Very interesting situation.

  22. I saw an article today the plane is being scrapped. Now that American is announcing it, hopeful a report follows soon. Good reading to come for sure!

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