Delta’s Damaged 757 Is Back In Service!

Filed Under: Delta

In mid-August, a Delta 757 flying from New York to Ponta Delgada in the Azores had a really rough landing.

The plane sustained a shocking number of rips and tears throughout the fuselage and wings.

A couple of readers were on the flight and shared their experience. For example, reader Beth said the following:

I was on this flight and am a frequent flier, but first time to the Azores. It was overcast. The approach is over the coast above cliffs. All seemed fine, though there was some not uncommon wing wagging. But, the initial impact was very hard and not on all gear, mostly on the left, not nose or right. We bounced and came down hard again on the left, possibly some on the nose gear, and bounced up and tilted to the left. I was in first cabin and this was pretty pronounced. At this point, I was unsure of a landing or accident. But, on the next bounce, we evened out, then came up slightly, then down and held. I’ve had hard landings, but never had a landing like that. I was surprised the other passengers didn’t talk about it, because it’s true we did not. Perhaps, people didn’t want to admit they were scared or other parts of the plane didn’t get the same impact. I don’t pretend to know about the effect of different winds or piloting, etc., but it went bad, and almost real bad.

Reader Erinr said the following:

I was on this flight. It seemed like a crosswind issue, lots of crabbing into the approach, and the wings never seemed level. We bounced so hard everything flew around the cabin. Id be curious if the PA announcements were recorded cause they were kinda slurry. Just thankful to be on the ground and on my honeymoon.

With the level of damage, a lot of people assumed that this would be a write-off, and that the plane would never fly again. It’s one thing if one particular part of a plane is badly damaged, but when several parts of the fuselage, the wings, etc., all have damage, one would assume it’s really bad.

Many were surprised to learn that Delta was trying to fix the plane, which I was kind of expecting, given that Delta loves planes that are fixer-uppers. In late August, an Antonov AN-124 was even flown to Ponta Delgada with supplies to try and fix the 757.

Amazingly enough, in mid-September Delta flew the damaged plane from Ponta Delgada to Atlanta.

Now there’s a further update. From mid-September until the end of November, the plane was being repaired in the Atlanta and Jacksonville area, and then as of December 1, 2019, the plane reentered commercial service. So it looks like the plane was being repaired in the US for roughly 2.5 months before it was ready to fly again.

In the past couple of weeks the plane has been crisscrossing the US, and has even been operating flights to Hawaii.

The plane has the registration code N543US, in case you’re curious to track it.

I’m impressed they were able to repair this plane. I’d be fascinated to know how much that all cost, though I doubt we’ll ever find out. I’d also be curious to know just how many repairs were done in the Azores compared to in the US. In other words, within a month the plane was in a good enough state to cross the Atlantic, but then it took over two more months for the plane to be fully repaired.

Interesting stuff…

Comments
  1. I have A LOT of faith on Delta’s mechanics but N543US is out of my fly list if I can avoid it. I’m sorry but there have been several incidents where planes that suffer damaged frames end up in accidents or depressurization issues. Too many moving parts to guarantee repair!!!

  2. Has there been an investigation into this accident?

    I’ve made that approach to PDL many times in high winds – always on TAP though and while it can be a bit bumpy and there’s a lot of swaying I’ve never been nervous. For whatever reason an approach in an easterly always seems rougher than one in a westerly. The runway, like a lot of mid-Atlantic islands is more than long enough for the capabilities of planes of today so this really is an odd incident.

    FWIW, I did see the 757 parked up in September and the chat there at the time was it would be scrapped. I’m amazed it hasn’t been.

  3. Having ferried several “basket case” airframes, they do not need to structuraly sound or in good shape for a ferry flight, especially one that will NOT be flown over populated areas!
    A ferry permit for a damaged airplane, and a few sign-offs by a mechanic to move it is no big deal….so the fact it was moved “across the Atlantic” to get it repaired doesn’t really matter. Anybody who had ever flown a ferry flight knows the margins of safety are VERY small, so much so, that the flight is individually dispatched with a permit, usually from the FAA, with minimum required crew, with restrictions, like avoiding flights over populated areas.

  4. This aircraft was repaired at where I used to work. It’s not the first time they’ve repaired a hard landing on a nose gear that causes major structural repair. They’ve done the same on an Atlas 767. They’ve also been working on Delta’s aircraft for almost 10 years doing many structural repairs and none of those aircraft have had further incident. I would fly that airplane.

  5. I heard they were going to scrap it.
    Speculation:
    Lawyers pointed out it would be considered a major accident and hull loss. That would trigger lawsuits from the crash survivors vs a non event incident.

    So it “had” to be fixed.

    $6 million rumored repair

  6. How can I ensure I don’t end up on this plane? I’m a Delta platinum who often flies via ATL on long haul US and international flights.

  7. @NMR
    if your on a flight where that plane is allocated just call delta up and ask for a same-day change, other then that nothing you can do.

  8. I dunno… I’m thinking of the Japan Air Lines 747 that had its tail repaired – by Boeing – after a tail strike, and then seven years later that same tail FELL OFF while the plane was departing Haneda. 520 passengers and crew died… FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY.

  9. You can’t really avoid it…
    Some airlines even renumber and re-register planes to hide identities….only thing that doesn’t change is the manufacturers serial number…
    Till the plane shows up at the gate….it could get swapped at any moment. Scheduling of planes tend to be pretty dynamic, with some planes flying more, some less, based on mx forecasts, future scheduled items and ongoing issues.
    Would I avoid it, no, might be the safest plane in the fleet. Many items on that plane have been inspected that would never normally get looked at.
    Yes, I am a pilot… and flying cargo I have flown many repaired airplanes….heck the entire tails are removed on many 767’s and parts like the rear bulkhead rebuilt.
    I would not worry based on an accident that occurred 40+ years ago….

  10. Some severe crashes were caused by bad repairment work after a terrible incident — true
    Flying the repaired airframe after a terrible incident is dangerous — not so true

  11. I used to love following Lucky’s posts on his blog.
    Trip reports from one AvGeek to others.
    Then at some point it became a business. “Clicks” were so much more important than AvGeek chit-chat.

    Ben, you are an FAA certified Private Pilot. Did you explain to “reader Beth” that in a crosswind landing, a plane should touch down on the “upwind” main gear prior the “other side” (then as always, the nose) ? While this landing may have been especially hard, the order of gear touch down is typical given the situation.

    Likewise, “reader Erinr” seems to know what they’re talking about ref “crabbing” but then is also surprised the “wings were never level”. On a crosswind landing, the wings should NOT be level. A “crab” should not be maintained to touchdown (it means the plane will land slightly sideways). At some point, the crab needs to straightened out and compensated with a “wing low into the wind” touchdown. As a Private Pilot, you know this. Granted, the “economy of scale” is different on a 757 vs the Cessna 172s you and I fly, but the concept is the same.

    Extremely high level….
    Planes are built to “flex”. If not, they’d be falling out of the skies by the dozens. Ever hear of the word “turbulence” ?
    Extreme “flexes” could very well result in a crinkling of the skin of the plane.
    This plane obviously got it’s skin crinkled in a few spots. But such (skin) crinkling gives no indication as to the damage to the frame (bones) of the plane. Thus you & I have no idea as to the extent of the damage. Let’s leave this analysis to those who have access to the plane and have the knowledge to make the determination.

    FWIW … it is not the least bit abnormal for a commercial aircraft to not be certifiable for revenue service, but able to get a ferry permit to a place that repairs can be made. This almost always involves preliminary repairs to get the ferry approval and in some cases it’s “rinse, lather & repeat” as the plane goes thru multiple levels of repair at various maint shops. Please stop trying to overplay this plane’s path back to recovery.

  12. Wow any feedback would be great because my company recently switched from Alaskan airlines to delta and I travel 60% monthly. I started doing research on delta and their planes are soooooooo old. Read that they took over trans airlines fleet. I dont know much about the mechanics of planes but feel leary of older planes. I feel like newer planes come from experts that build planes and deltas old fleet is being repaired by mechanics trying to essentially to rebuild them. I could be totally wrong and dont mean any disrespect to plane mechanics as I deeply appreciate the work that they do but at what point is it time to stop repairing and buy a new one? I am just sooo incredibly nervous given how often I travel with my company knowing I will be riding on “repaired” planes vs new planes and it truly scares the heck out of me.

  13. Delta knows their planes well…their used planes are sought after as used planes due to GREAT MX….old does not equal unsafe or even worn-out IF they gave been treated well…and Delta is GREAT with mx, no shortcuts like many low cost counterparts.
    The jackscrew issues that caused Alaska to crash? Not an issue at Delta….
    Just to put in into perspective, the older planes in Delta’s fleet had higher ratings, both on time, and reliability ratings than their newer ones for many years…
    Delta pretty much sets the standards for most if the industry to meet as the #1 carrier, so I would not worry one moment.

  14. My daughter has been flying quite a bit, even though she’s just 30. And she always flys Delta. “There just simply a classy airlines.” To think that they actually let people fly with their luggage free, still, is Awesome.. My daughter and I are flying to Paris in March, and we’re going Delta/Air France. I’ll admit I’m nervous. I haven’t flown in years. But I’m excited to go someplace I’ve never been. It’s hard to leave home with so many problems going on around the world. Even though the United States isn’t exactly what you would call safe per se. However; In my little nook and cranny of the United States it seems pretty calm most of the time! I don’t really know what to say about Delta’s plane issues. Whether the planes are old or whatever the case may be. But since they are the industry leaders, they must be doing something right! Sincerely Tammie

  15. @Timothy J. Petkus Thank you for the detailed info. I really appreciate it. As someone that is always nervous about flying in general this helps me a great deal. I was able to pull up a safety report on their planes and they received higher marks across the board so that also made me feel a great deal better. Thanks again.

  16. Tammie,
    I agree. After reading safety ratings for other airlines I feel a heck of a lot better. Im kind of of glad my company switched to them after reading safety ratings on some of these other airlines. Have fun in Paris. Wishing you a safe trip!

  17. @STEVE

    The preferred technique in landing in crosswinds in this airplane at delta is “Decrab during the flare”

    The wing low method and touching down in a crab are not recommended.

  18. @steve

    At delta in this airplane the recommended technique landing in crosswinds is to “decrab during the flare”

    Touching down in a crab or the wing low method are not recommended

  19. I worked for Delta 34 years as a mechanic and later as an inspector in Atlanta and been evolved lots of repairs on planes I can assure anyone flying in this plane that it is repaired to a stronger standard than when new. I probably would prefer to be on this plane. No problem here!

  20. Many years ago at EWR a L0111 landed ( hard) and ruptured the fuel tank & cracked the main spar. It was towed to the freight office parking area. Many mechanics were brought in from ATL. The plane was raised on Jacks and a large tarp covered the plane. Lockheed said it would take x number of days to repair. Our mechanics had the plane in the air back to ATL for additional repairs in half the time of Lockheeds est. Delta sent me a piece of the tarp that covered the plane with a letter signed by Mr. Garrett thanking me for whatever assistance I provided. Our mechanics were and are the best in the business.

  21. @Timothy J. Petkus
    What do you think about 737-800 ng issues?
    I am supposed to fly Alaska and they use that fleet. Thank you!

  22. The issues with the “pickle fork’s” should not worry you… different issues come up as airplanes age, and that’s why extra inspections are created as new areas of concern are found. The reality is the NG series is in prime, old enough to be well understood, but still new enough to be a very reliable workhorse.
    The reality is, it is a longer-term mx issue, not an real immediate safety issue that would have never made the news cycle if it wasn’t for the MAX issues.

  23. As with others, I would not be comfortable getting onboard this aircraft. To this day, I am stunned that Delta didn’t retire it and bring an undamaged aircraft out of storage (they have many 757-200 in storage). I remember the JAL 747 that crashed due to an improper repair of the aft pressure bulkhead after a tail strike incident. I’m thankful that no one was killed on the Delta 757, but N543US should have been pulled from service and retired. If I end up on a 757 flight, I will be checking the registration.

    One thing that always gets me questioning authorities on any issue, is the potential arrogance in their statements. The “we are so good the plane is better than new” or “we’ve controlled for all the variables” or “the ship is unsinkable” ends up reducing my confidence. We humans are NOT perfect creatures. We have achieved many technological wonders, but there is always the unknown. When the JAL plane was repaired, everyone thought it had received all the repairs it needed. I have a hard time believing that provides any comfort from the families of the 500+ people killed.

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