Accounts of the dramatic landing of an Airbus jet in Los Angeles with its nose gear stuck and the wheels turned 90 degrees sideways focused almost exclusively on the fact that frightened passengers were able to watch their own plight on in-flight television newscasts.
Virtually overlooked was that this kind of incident had happened on Airbus 320s at least four times before.
The most recent was in 1999, which resulted in a mandatory airworthiness directive to all airlines operating the aircraft to fix possible faults with O-ring seals in the landing-gear steering module.
In Los Angeles, U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board investigators now are not only examining the JetBlue Airbus, interviewing the flight crew and other airline staff, but also reviewing airline maintenance and service records.
The latter may prove the key to finding out why the A320 carrying 146 people had to make an emergency landing with its nose wheels locked at about 90 degrees.
“The question now, of course, is whether JetBlue — or a previous operator of the aircraft — performed
the corrective action as they should have,” one Ottawa-based aviation engineer said.
He also said that if the JetBlue aircraft did have a defective component, it may not always have been on that same aircraft.
“Parts like this are described as ‘rotable,' meaning they can be removed and replaced or used on any aircraft of the same type and model,” he said.
No one was hurt in the emergency landing, but there was plenty of anxiety.
Passenger Zachary Mastoon of New York said it was “surreal” to watch his plane's fate being discussed on live TV while it was in the air. At one point, he said, he tried to call his family, but Associated Press reported his cellphone call wouldn't go through. “I wanted to call my dad to tell him I'm alive so far,” the 27-year-old musician said.
Diane Hamilton, 32, a television graphics specialist, said: “At the end it was the worst because you didn't know if it was going to work, if we would catch fire. It was very scary. Grown men were crying.”
JetBlue, based in New York, is a five-year-old, low-fare airline with 286 flights a day and destinations in 13 states and the Caribbean. It operates a fleet of 81 A320s. In a statement, the airline said it was working with regulatory authorities and Airbus officials to investigate the accident.
In February, 1999, according to NTSB records, an America West Airlines A320 trying to land in Port Columbus International Airport had problems with its landing gear and, during its final approach, the control tower noticed that its nose wheels were rotated sideways.
Just as in Los Angeles, the pilots made a safe emergency landing. It was a soft touchdown with lots of runway to spare, and damage was limited to tires and rims.
That certificate was issued by the French authority on March 24, 1999, and by the FAA on Dec. 17, 1999. The FAA gave its airlines 12 months to comply.
Air Canada spokeswoman Laura Cooke said yesterday that Air Canada operates 51 Airbus A320s and that they fully comply with the 1999 steering-control-module airworthiness directives. She said Air Canada will monitor the probe of the JetBlue incident and will take any additional steps required as a result of the investigation.
Peter Garrison, an aviation journalist known for his monthly Aftermath column in Flying Magazine, which analyzes aircraft accidents based on NTSB reports, said in an interview yesterday that while the Los Angeles incident looked dramatic, it “never had the earmarks of a life-threatening emergency.”
Still, there were frantic preparations, including shifting passengers and overhead baggage to the back of the aircraft and instructing passengers on how to brace for a bumpy landing.
Mr. Harrison said that the JetBlue pilots had three hours to consult with Airbus and its own instructor-pilots on the ground to formulate a safe approach. That would have included a long and soft landing to try to keep as much weight off the front of the aircraft as possible.
“The pilot did an exceptionally good job landing the way he did.”