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First Officer On American JFK Runway Incursion Flight Had Added Task At Departure, Source Says

An American Airlines Boeing 777 lands at London Heathrow Airport in August 2022 (Photo by Nicolas … [+] Economou)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

The first officer on American Airlines Flight 106, which was involved in a runway incursion Friday night at Kennedy International Airport, was flying her first flight with new cockpit procedures, a source said.

At the time of the incursion, which forced a Delta Air Lines aircraft to stop suddenly, the first officer was engaged in a series of tasks that involved processing takeoff data that included flap and power settings as well as a runway assessment.

But for the first time, under new procedures introduced Jan. 2, she also had to make an announcement informing passengers and flight attendants of the impending takeoff, said the source, a pilot who has knowledge of the incident and who asked not to be named.

The procedures require the 777 first officer to inform passengers and flight attendants that takeoff is imminent. That announcement was previously made by the captain. It requires the first officer to interrupt continuing tasks, be precise on timing and change intercom settings.

The first officer, an experienced 737 pilot, was making her first 777 flight after 100 hours of training flights that did not include the new procedures.

“She has all this data to analyze and input, plus she has a new task on top of all that,” the source said. “She was overwhelmed.”

In the incident, Flight 106 crossed a runway about 1,000 feet in front of Delta Air Lines
Flight 1943, which had to abort its takeoff. The Delta plane returned to the gate. The American plane, its pilots unaware of the close call, continued to London. No one was injured. Air traffic controller communications indicate that Flight 106 was on the wrong runway at the time.

Many have questioned why the American crew did not return to the gate after the incursion. The reason is that they had no knowledge of the seriousness of the incident, the source said. After the incident occurred, controllers gave the pilots a number to call.

They called, but it is unclear whether they got through, the source said.

“The crew didn’t understand the gravity of what occurred until they got to London,” the source said. “That is when they realized what happened. Until then, they didn’t know there had been a runway incursion.”

Although the first officer was experienced on the Boeing 737, “she was brand new in that airplane,” said the source. “She had just read the 35-page bulletin that changes procedures.”

The captain, meanwhile, had to make a left turn and then a right turn to get on the runway, and so did not have sufficient visibility to see stop bar lights on the runway. The captain was in fact on his way to another runway. A third pilot in the cockpit also could not see the lights.

At the time of the incident, the pilots had just switched to the tower frequency from the American ground tower. “They never heard Delta cleared for takeoff,” the source said. “Delta was cleared for takeoff before they switched over.”

On January 2, American Airlines implemented new cockpit procedures including changes to cockpit communications during critical events including takeoff. Allied Pilots Association, which represents 15,000 American pilots, said the implementation involves an attempt to alter critical procedures through a 35-page bulletin and changes in a 65- page manual rather than through in person training.

On Jan. 3, the day after implementation, American said: “These changes represent industry best practice and ensure improved crew coordination and consistency across fleet types so that our pilots can easily transition across different aircraft if they choose.

“These updates have been underway since 2021 and have been a coordinated effort with APA’s training committee,” the carrier said in a prepared statement. “Additionally, the approach to familiarizing our pilots has been approved by the FAA.

“Our commitment to safety is unwavering, which is why we regularly update our Aircraft Operating Manuals to ensure they represent the latest and safest information for our pilots,” American said.

An American spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the incident.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Dallas-based principal operations inspector for American Airlines approved the implementation of the new procedures. Even before the incident, APA had appealed the approval.

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