American 777 & Delta 737 Nearly Collide On JFK Runway

American 777 & Delta 737 Nearly Collide On JFK Runway

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An incident that happened at New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) on Friday night could have ended in disaster, but fortunately that was narrowly avoided. I first wrote about this over the weekend, though there are now some more details about what happened (including a useful new animation), so I wanted to take a look at that.

American & Delta planes nearly collide

This incident happened at around 8:45PM ET on Friday, January 13, 2022. It involves American Airlines flight AA106, a Boeing 777-200ER that was scheduled to fly to London (LHR), and Delta Air Lines flight DL1943, a Boeing 737-900 that was scheduled to fly to Santo Domingo (SDQ). This story was first reported by @xJonNYC.

https://twitter.com/xJonNYC/status/1614252314432311296

Long story short, the Delta 737 had been cleared for takeoff on runway 4L, and the American 777 crossed the runway at the same time. It’s only because the air traffic controller noticed this situation that potential disaster was avoided. VASAviation has the ATC audio, along with a useful illustration of what was happening.

Here’s part of the transcript between the air traffic controller and Delta pilot (you can hear the pilot’s voice trembling when he says “all right, whew”):

Air traffic controller: $hit! Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance. Delta 1943, cancel takeoff clearance.
Delta pilot: Rejecting.
Delta pilot: All right, whew, Delta 1943.
Air traffic controller: Delta 1943, are you able to taxi, or do you need a couple of minutes to run checks?
Delta pilot: Yeah we can get off the runway, Delta 1943.

Meanwhile following this, here’s part of the transcript between the air traffic controller and American pilot:

American pilot: The last clearance we were given, we were cleared to cross, is that correct?
Air traffic controller: American 106 heavy, we’re departing runway 4L, I guess we’ll listen to the tapes, but you were supposed to depart runway 4L, you’re currently holding short of runway 31L.

For what it’s worth, the American 777 flight still ended up departing for London, and arrived around 30 minutes behind schedule. Meanwhile the Delta 737 flight ended up being canceled and rescheduled for the next morning, and it arrived around 15 hours behind schedule.

It’s not clear what the reason for that Delta delay was — did the brakes need to cool off, did the pilots not feel comfortable flying, did the pilots time out, or…?).

How could an incident like this happen?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now investigating this incident. The initial information from the FAA suggests that the Delta jet stopped its takeoff roll roughly 1,000 feet short of the point where the American jet was crossing the runway, making this a pretty close call.

While we’ll have to wait for a full investigation, it’s pretty clear that the Delta pilots were following air traffic control instructions, and taking off from the correct runway. Meanwhile it would appear that the American pilots were taxiing to the wrong runway, which also caused them to cross the wrong runway.

The American 777 was also supposed to depart from runway 4L (the same runway the Delta jet was taking off from), but instead crossed that runway with plans to depart from runway 31L. The big question is how the pilots could make that mistake.

Fortunately we have the taxi clearance that the American pilots were given, and this puts the blame pretty squarely on them:

American pilot: Ground, American 106 heavy, TA for taxi.
Air traffic controller: 106 heavy, Kennedy ground, runway 4L, taxi left B, hold short of K.
American pilot: B, short of K, American 106.
Air traffic controller: American 106 heavy, cross runway 31L at K.
American pilot: Cross 31L at K, American 106 heavy.

With the first instructions, the pilots only partially repeated the instructions, and didn’t mention the runway. During the second set of instructions, the pilots read back the instructions clearly — they confirmed they could cross runway 31L, not that they could cross runway 4L.

How two experienced American Airlines pilots could make this mistake is kind of shocking. Even if they misinterpreted something (despite reading it back correctly), you’d think they’d have a general sense of the traffic pattern at the time, noticing that takeoffs were happening on runway 4L.

Kudos to the air traffic controller for catching the error so quickly, and to the Delta pilots for their quick response in rejecting takeoff. If this had been noticed a few seconds later, the outcome could have been totally different.

In fairness, based on the information we have so far, there’s no guarantee the planes would have collided. They may have still been separated by a very small margin. Regardless, this was way too close for comfort.

Bottom line

Disaster was narrowly averted at JFK on Friday night, after an American 777 bound for London crossed the runway while a Delta 737 bound for Santo Domingo was taking off. The American 777 seemed to be taxiing to the wrong runway, and as a result crossed an active runway that they didn’t have permission to cross. Fortunately the air traffic controller was vigilant and managed to prevent a catastrophe.

What do you make of this incident at JFK?

Conversations (44)
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  1. William B Guest

    Sterile cockpit, Challenge and read back, And in all deviations from norm Communicated immediately between pilot and co-pilot Save the day onn the the Delta flight decks that's the way it should be. What then he'll was going happening on the American deck seems to be outside of SOP and flight management standards. American pilots had teal time visual airport diagrams and their position in front of each pilot. Maybe they should go back to...

    Sterile cockpit, Challenge and read back, And in all deviations from norm Communicated immediately between pilot and co-pilot Save the day onn the the Delta flight decks that's the way it should be. What then he'll was going happening on the American deck seems to be outside of SOP and flight management standards. American pilots had teal time visual airport diagrams and their position in front of each pilot. Maybe they should go back to ground school and be recertification in type ???

    making the Delta aircraft

  2. Hubby says: Guest

    "No, I said turn right, not left..."

  3. JammerA3000 Guest

    I'm not a pilot. It would seem a very good idea to this non pilot given the extremely busy and complex airport traffic ways we have in the world today if planes' cockpits were equipped with a visual display of the airport's runways and clearly indicate the route air traffic controllers have authorized a plane to proceed on. If a wrong turn were made by the pilot, the system would immediately sound a warning to the pilots.

  4. vbscript2 Guest

    "It’s not clear what the reason for that Delta delay was — did the brakes need to cool off, did the pilots not feel comfortable flying, did the pilots time out"

    My guess is at least the first two and possibly also the third.

  5. FlyerDon Guest

    I think some folks might be surprised how junior some of the pilots are that fly international flights like this one, especially the first officer and the relief pilot. Throw in a captain that hasn’t been on the 777 very long and you can have a pretty inexperienced crew taking you on your international flights. There is no excuse for what happened but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the crew members...

    I think some folks might be surprised how junior some of the pilots are that fly international flights like this one, especially the first officer and the relief pilot. Throw in a captain that hasn’t been on the 777 very long and you can have a pretty inexperienced crew taking you on your international flights. There is no excuse for what happened but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the crew members are pretty junior. I almost hope that’s the case, I hate to think a senior crew would screw up like this.

  6. S Gold

    An American Airlines pilot flying a 777 overseas should not be making such basic mistakes. Pretty disturbing.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      People make mistakes. That's what make us human, and not 100% reliable.

      Any repetitive tasks are prone to mistakes. Imagine moving through a maze under the instruction of someone else everyday.

  7. Jack Elliot Guest

    I watched a show the other day about a the investigation into a plane crash. It was determined that pilot fatigue was a major factor in the crash. I wonder if that's the case here. Is JFK confusing to maneuver? The tower clearly gave correct instructions and AA106 pilot repeated them back but didn't follow them correctly.

  8. iamhere Guest

    It seems like these accidents are happening more often or at least they are being reported more often. I wonder the reason why the Delta flight was canceled or delayed. Would be interesting to know.

    1. vbscript2 Guest

      Delta flight almost certainly had to have the brakes checked for possible overheating. This is normal after a rejected takeoff (or overweight landing, etc.) Crew likely timed out and/or decided they were unfit to continue, as well. (And I certainly wouldn't blame them for the latter. I don't think I'd be fit to start a flight if I were in their shoes.)

    2. Kelley P Gold

      Certainly they needed to do some laundry....

  9. Tim Dunn Diamond

    The Wall Street Journal says there is a system to detect potential runway incursions at JFK and it was triggered by this incident.
    That intersection also has runway crossing lights which were properly working and visually indicated to the pilots that they were not permitted to cross that runway.

    1. D3kingg Guest

      @Tim Dunn

      But the ATC does not control those runway crossing lights or factor in pilot error.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      they did and do get alerts for their use.
      I'm not sure what your point is. Airport authorities actually build and maintain all parts of airports. ATC is the mechanism to use the assets.

    3. D3kingg Guest

      @Tim Dunn

      They are automated. It’s not like ATC turns a light switch on and off every time for an active runway.

  10. Tim P. Guest

    Some airports have lights, like stop lights for cars but on ground level, to prevent planes from having ground collisions. I wonder if this airport had them and if so were they working at the time of this incident?

  11. Jordan Gold

    Oh dear. I have taken AA106 many times over the years. This leaves me feeling a bit strange.

  12. DMNYC Guest

    @Ben I imagine rejecting takeoff at high speed might cause some issues with the brakes or other mechanics. Potentially not anything that would endanger normal operations, but because safety procedures are built around preventing incidents like these, they would likely need to confident that the aircraft would be able to handle an identical or similar emergency, however unlikely.

    1. Levi Diamond

      See this rejected takeoff by a 748 during tests: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g6UswiRCF0

    2. vbscript2 Guest

      Yes, that video of the 747-8 is what happens when the RTO test goes as planned.

      This video of the A340 is what happens when it doesn't:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irTizOVM-3U

    3. Ross Guest

      I imagine rejecting takeoff at high speed might cause some issues with passenger pants and airline seats needing to be cleaned before another attempted departure

  13. DMNYC Guest

    @Ben I imagine rejecting takeoff at high speed might cause some issues with the brakes or other mechanics. Potentially not anything that would endanger normal operations, but because safety procedures are built around preventing incidents like these, they would likely need to confident that the aircraft would be able to handle an identical or similar emergency, however unlikely.

  14. Eskimo Guest

    I don't know how many more incidents or loss of lives need to happen before we stop this. I have to keep saying this.

    Isn't it about time we automate all these things and leave human error out of the equation.

    We have all the technologies available over the counter, but a bunch of Regulatorsaurus who are buddies with Unionosaurus aren't extinct yet.

    If a $300 game console can calculate and a $50k Tesla can...

    I don't know how many more incidents or loss of lives need to happen before we stop this. I have to keep saying this.

    Isn't it about time we automate all these things and leave human error out of the equation.

    We have all the technologies available over the counter, but a bunch of Regulatorsaurus who are buddies with Unionosaurus aren't extinct yet.

    If a $300 game console can calculate and a $50k Tesla can self navigate, when will you apply it to a hundred million dollar flying tube.

    This isn't the 2nd Amendment where there is strong political and financial opposition.

    1. Bagoly Guest

      Automation works better than humans for anything that has been precisely specified, correctly coded, and carefully tested.
      The humans are there for everything outside that envelope - malfunctioning sensor, blown fuse, maintenance error (much more difficult to automate that), unpredicted ice in fuel, weather beyond predicted parameters, fire onboard, solar storm knocking out communications, ATC instructing landing and takeoff on same runway at same time (has happened twice at BER in last seven years),...

      Automation works better than humans for anything that has been precisely specified, correctly coded, and carefully tested.
      The humans are there for everything outside that envelope - malfunctioning sensor, blown fuse, maintenance error (much more difficult to automate that), unpredicted ice in fuel, weather beyond predicted parameters, fire onboard, solar storm knocking out communications, ATC instructing landing and takeoff on same runway at same time (has happened twice at BER in last seven years), other 'plane crossing runway against instructions, any effect of malware, any disconnection of power to a computer, as well as faulty coding or testing of extreme scenarios.
      These are rare, but they do happen.
      0.01% of 20 million flights would be 2000 per year - we wouldn't want that number of crashes.

      It's certainly better to have automation as default with human override rather human default with automation override, because asking automation to predict human actions rather than mechanical ones is a nightmare.
      The stupidly expensive automatic braking on trains is an example of this being done the wrong way round.

      The challenge is how to keep humans capable enough, and alert enough, if they normally do very little, so what happens as one automates more and more.
      And how to deal with the fact that as more elements are successfully automated, the proportion of actual crashes due to human error becomes larger.
      Be careful about extrapolating from publicised human-caused near-misses - there are plenty of human-averted near-misses, and potential near-misses which don't happen because of disciplined humans; one does not hear about those so much.
      Not telling the humans about what the computers do, and having computers over-ride humans, a la 737Max, is clearly not the way to go.

      Big difference from cars (and Teslas still make mistakes) is that a car can just stop; an aircraft has to land which is rather more challenging if any of those scenarios I listed above is in play.

    2. Sarah Guest

      I’m a GA pilot, and I know many airline pilots. As much as I love autopilot and technology, there is no way in hell that I’d get in a plane without human pilots in control at this point in time, and all of them feel the same way. It’s not there yet, not even close.

      You look at simple incidents like this and dream of automation as an easy and obvious solution, but it’s...

      I’m a GA pilot, and I know many airline pilots. As much as I love autopilot and technology, there is no way in hell that I’d get in a plane without human pilots in control at this point in time, and all of them feel the same way. It’s not there yet, not even close.

      You look at simple incidents like this and dream of automation as an easy and obvious solution, but it’s not. At this point in tech, you’d be trading mostly minor and predictable human errors (that are easily avoided in almost all cases) for unpredictable AI errors that are more likely to be fatal.

      I’m not opposed to full automation, but we’re just not even close to there yet - and jumping the gun on automation is likely to set it back at least a lifetime.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      @Bagoly

      "the proportion of actual crashes due to human error becomes larger."
      True, but over all crashes or fatalities would be exponetially smaller.

      " human-averted near-misses, and potential near-misses which don't happen because of disciplined humans;"
      Name a few that
      a) Didn't start the whole chain of events from human error
      b) Could not be averted with automation
      US1549 showed excellent airmanship, and I'm not ever going to undermine that....

      @Bagoly

      "the proportion of actual crashes due to human error becomes larger."
      True, but over all crashes or fatalities would be exponetially smaller.

      " human-averted near-misses, and potential near-misses which don't happen because of disciplined humans;"
      Name a few that
      a) Didn't start the whole chain of events from human error
      b) Could not be averted with automation
      US1549 showed excellent airmanship, and I'm not ever going to undermine that. But it begs the question, if the A320 had all latest technology, could automation also save the plane?

      The 737MAX no doubt had software issues. But part of it stems from greed and consequences brings us safer skies.

      "Teslas still make mistakes"
      Most is when it collides into another vehicle. If "all" cars had TCAS equivalent, not going to be that many crashes.

      Big difference from cars and aircraft, is the latter the regulator has full authority to mandate 100% of the skies. Much harder to ban old cars or force major upgrades from the road.

      @Sarah
      "there is no way in hell that I’d get in a plane without human pilots"
      This statement alone already proves your emotions come way way way before logic.

      "there is no way in hell that I’d trust the watch without cranking it myself"
      "there is no way in hell that I’d trust the power grid without using my gas generator"
      "there is no way in hell that I’d trust the gas generator without building it myself"
      "there is no way in hell that I’d trust the gas without refining it myself" etc.

      unpredictable AI errors < unpredictable human errors
      "unpredictable AI errors"
      You design, test, test, and real world test, learn from errors, fix, and solve.
      human error?
      You drink and drive from the dawn of this invention and a century later people still have DUI fatalities. No mistakes learn. Repeat, drink, drive, repeat. Solve that?
      We lost an average 10,000 lives, only in the USA, annually.
      I'm willing to bet 2022 globally more people died from DUI than from the entire history of commercial aviation.

      Our technology is already here, we are short of real world data to make it even safer. It's people with mindset like you who derails and set back automations.
      We automate not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.

  15. Tim Dunn Diamond

    It does seem hard to believe that at least two experienced AA pilots could have not just failed to follow ATC's directions but also not realized the traffic pattern and that their turn did not fit w/ that pattern. And there could well have been an extra pilot in the cockpit of the AA flight if they staff it with 3 pilots on the return - LHR to JFK flights are right at the 8...

    It does seem hard to believe that at least two experienced AA pilots could have not just failed to follow ATC's directions but also not realized the traffic pattern and that their turn did not fit w/ that pattern. And there could well have been an extra pilot in the cockpit of the AA flight if they staff it with 3 pilots on the return - LHR to JFK flights are right at the 8 hour limit for 2 pilots and some airlines have a 3rd pilot just to be able to absorb delays while others do not.
    Thankfully, ATC and the DL pilots acted very quickly and Boeing still builds good brakes on the 737.

    As for the reason for the cancellation of the DL flight, the rejected take off inspection would have taken some time and the pilots might have been at the end of their duty day.
    Given that there are accounts of passengers on the DL flight commenting about the abrupt stop, I'm sure most people were ok w/ getting another night's sleep before trying again.

    And I expect that Delta is asking American to pay for the costs of delaying the flight.

  16. Anonymous Guest

    Planes do not have basic collision detection during takeoff / landing?

    1. Dick Bupkiss Guest

      Yes they do. They're called "pilots".

      If someone is sitting up front and can't be bothered to look out the window to see if there's an airplane in the way that they're going to hit as they move forward, then that person is not a pilot, they're just a passenger along for the ride, no matter how fancy their uniform looks. But having passengers sitting in the pilot's seat is increasingly common as less-qualified people...

      Yes they do. They're called "pilots".

      If someone is sitting up front and can't be bothered to look out the window to see if there's an airplane in the way that they're going to hit as they move forward, then that person is not a pilot, they're just a passenger along for the ride, no matter how fancy their uniform looks. But having passengers sitting in the pilot's seat is increasingly common as less-qualified people move into those front seats with less and less experience actually flying planes, and more and more button-pushing time. Expect more of this going forward as actual stick time becomes less and less valued.

    2. Maryland Guest

      My thoughts about the pilots also. And hey, when two are upfront how they get lost finding the correct runway is confusing as it appears lots of signage exists. Maybe they should study an old school map before the taxi!

    3. Eskimo Guest

      No, they don't. They're called "humans".

      Unless we evolve to have perfect night vision, telescopic eyesight, and telepathy, there is no way to detect collision or runway intrusion at that time of the night without relying on every extra set of eyes.

      Actual stick time becomes less and less valued. Because the more time humans are behind the stick the more likelihood of human error.

  17. Red Guest

    We don't actually know that ATC prevented the collision. Either or both pilots could have acted before communicating (A before N and C). AA could have accelerated their crossing and DL could have rejected takeoff before hearing from the tower.

    (I did notice something interesting in the communication though-- the tower correctly said cancel takeoff clearance. Totally correct mundane usage but what's interesting is that it's the standard derived after the Tenerife tragedy- the word...

    We don't actually know that ATC prevented the collision. Either or both pilots could have acted before communicating (A before N and C). AA could have accelerated their crossing and DL could have rejected takeoff before hearing from the tower.

    (I did notice something interesting in the communication though-- the tower correctly said cancel takeoff clearance. Totally correct mundane usage but what's interesting is that it's the standard derived after the Tenerife tragedy- the word 'takeoff' is only to be used to grant takeoff clearance or cancel takeoff clearance, at other times the word 'departure' must be used.)

    1. Reg Mulder Guest

      The 500+ lives from Tenerife resulted in a big change in communications. It worked this time again. Listening to the tapes has another issue here: the runway named for AAL is the one to cross, nowhere the 4L for departure is mentioned. That programs the mind also.

    2. Dan Guest

      4L was mentioned as the departure runway in the earlier communication.

  18. Robert Guest

    Either the AA pilots were wrong or ATC have incorrect direction. I haven't listened to any tapes but it seems AA is at fault since there would have been multiple ATC commands to move to 31L

    1. Levi Diamond

      AA pilots acknowledged that they were to cross 31L at Kilo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsFIHKkN2oU) ... they appear to have been confused about where they were and which runway they were crossing.

  19. Jkjkjk Guest

    Why? Because it’s aging technology.

  20. Brandon Biden Guest

    I've looked at the data and would appear AA did not have permission to cross but it reinforces my belief that being on ground, not air, is most dangerous part of flying.. taxing around very busy tarmacs scares me more than my son.

    1. TravelinWilly Diamond

      “…taxing around very busy tarmacs scares me more than my son.”

      Why does your son scare you?

    2. grichard Guest

      Clearly a question from somebody who doesn't have a son!

    3. Timo Gold

      Ah, the answer is in his screen name. It's a riddle.

    4. Pete Diamond

      You’re right I’d rather have two buffoons for sons and a daughter that I have inappropriate thoughts about.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Pete Diamond

You’re right I’d rather have two buffoons for sons and a daughter that I have inappropriate thoughts about.

6
DMNYC Guest

@Ben I imagine rejecting takeoff at high speed might cause some issues with the brakes or other mechanics. Potentially not anything that would endanger normal operations, but because safety procedures are built around preventing incidents like these, they would likely need to confident that the aircraft would be able to handle an identical or similar emergency, however unlikely.

3
Tim Dunn Diamond

The Wall Street Journal says there is a system to detect potential runway incursions at JFK and it was triggered by this incident. That intersection also has runway crossing lights which were properly working and visually indicated to the pilots that they were not permitted to cross that runway.

2
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