No, nothing wrong, but I’m declaring an emergency, everyone outtamyway…

American jpgOpinions in the pilot community will doubtless be divided over the conduct of this American Airlines Boeing 767 captain who doesn’t like the runway he’s been given and doesn’t care who knows it. To the point of unilaterally switching runways at JFK, declaring an emergency, and carrying on his own sweet way. Opinions in the ATC community may be less divided.


I’m assuming this was a nice clear day and he could see where he was going.

Recording courtesy of

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8 Responses to No, nothing wrong, but I’m declaring an emergency, everyone outtamyway…

  1. Astonished in Bristol May 7, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    I would be fascinated to know the opinions of pilots and ATC who are best placed to comment on this – I work on the Engineering side but cannot believe a pilot can get away with this:

    1) Is this sort of thing highly unusual?
    2) How much risk does this carry of cauing a more serious incident?
    3) Could the pilot involved expect to be reprimanded for his actions?

    Regards to all.


  2. Tim B May 7, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    I hesitate to comment without knowing all the facts, but it sure sounds like that pilot could use a “professional timeout”.

  3. canuck May 10, 2010 at 12:59 am #

    Someone needs to post the guy’s name.

  4. 121 Pilot May 10, 2010 at 11:58 pm #

    First some background. I’m a pilot for a US Major airline (not American) and based at JFK so I know the airport well.

    I’m going to start by taking Mr. Daly to task for the nature of this blog post as it unfortunately reflects a brand of poor tabloid journalism and not his usual high standards. This post should end up on his wall of shame. Why? First no where in the ATC tapes do we learn the reason for the emergency so the title of this post presents facts not in evidence. Furthermore it appears to be a quote which it is not. Then their is the natire of the post which I think most people would take as being imdicative that the pilot was clearly in the wrong here which again represents facts not in evidence.

    Frist some background about JFK for those who may not be aware. Currently runway 31L/13R is being re-paved which means that in order to prevent traffic delays the airport will avoid landing on 31L as long as possible as this essentially drives a single runway operation. Thats why with winds 320 at 23 knots guisting to 35 they would be landing on the 22′s.

    Now lets look at the floght in question. First the flight was American 2 not 22 so the above link is to the wrong flight. Looking at the history for the flight it looks like the held for around 30 mins. Not a huge amount of time but depending upon other factors it could have seriously eroded their fuel margin. Now from the time they leave the hold it looks like another 15 mins or so until they get cleared for the approach. However based on the fact that as soon as they get the wind report with gusts to 35 knots (33 is the max for a 767 so the crew likely went conservative as they should and factored all the gust as a direct crosswind). Not to that for a landing on 22 winds from 320 mean that their will be a tailwind componet. Clearly with those winds the crew made the right call and refused to land on runway 22.

    Now lets assume (facts not in evidence I know but we do have some circumstancial evidence that leads us here) that the crew was looking at a low fuel level. The Captain doubltess knows that given the traffic volume into JFK he could be looking at an extended vector to get onto 31L. A vector that could quickly drive his fuel state to an unacceptable level. Keeping in mind that his first and foremost duty is to the safety of his passangers he takes the conservative route opts to declare an emergency and land on 31L.

    Now a bit of inside info. As I mentioned I’m JFK based and there are some controller voices I know well. Some because they are very good at what they do. Other because they frankly suck. If this crew was JFK based they likely knew the voice on the radio belonged to a guy known for being more than a little short tempered. And they may have been in JFK the same night I was when this idiot managed to gridlock the airport and then just gave up trying to fix it. That night nothing moved for around 30 mins until he was replaced by one of the “good” guys who unscrambled his mess (and it was a thing of beauty to listen to) and go the airport moving again.

    Now if I was looking at a low fuel state, strong winds, a JFK arrival, and I just went around with this guy as the controller I might well decide enough was enough an declare an emergency myself. If that crew was low on fuel (and we’ve no idea if they had declared min fuel earlier) then they aboslutely acted properly by delcaring the emergency getting that aircraft bon the ground safely. If that inconvicnces ATC then so be it. Your job is the safety of your aircraft period.

    I would also point out that American had a well known incident some time back when a 757 inbound to Dallas declared a fuel emergency but was denied the runway they wanted. In that case the crew (wrongly) took what ATC would give them and fortunetly landed safely. I’d bet big that since that time American has emphasized to its crews that if you have an emergency then you are in charge not ATC and you tell them what you want not the other way round.

    Consequently presuming that the aircraft was low on fuel this crew acted properly. Handed an illegal runway (outside limitations) and looking at a low fuel state (again an assumption I know) the crew took command of the sitution and brought the flight to a safe conclusion.

    My Grandfather flew for TWA from the end of WWII until the early 70′s when he retired as a 747 Captain. I once interviewed him for a Junior High careers class and I’ve never forgotten something he said then. Regarding ATC he said “Son, you have to remember they aren’t up there with you and you are ultimately in charge.”

    Here is another article about the incident which is far more balanced in my opinion.

  5. 121 Pilot May 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    One other lesson to be learned. Yours truly should proofread his comments!

  6. ukvisa May 14, 2010 at 11:29 am #

    Hi Kieran
    I hope you’re well.
    Without accepting 121 pilots view of the journalism – I thought it was a short/balanced mention of an event worthy of being news – thank you 121 pilot for giving more info that puts the event in context.
    One question: has anything happened to the pilot or controller involved; we’ve learnt that communication in the cockpit is key to safety… it seems wrong not to expand that lesson to improving communication between cockpit and ATC.

  7. Denise June 20, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    The ATC Live feed obviously starts midway into a conversation between the pilot and the controller. Who really knows what happened before the recording that would lead to this animosity between the two individuals.

  8. Steve Brack September 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    FAR Sec. 91.3

    Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

    (a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
    (b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
    (c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.


    The pilot may or may not have had an emergency, as someone on the ground would define it. Clearly, he had an emergency as he defined it.

    ATC is not in command of that airliner, and the controller isn’t in the cockpit with the flight crew. 91.3 is in place to make crystal-clear that the pilot-in-command has ultimate authority and his acts under an emergeny are not subject to anyone’s permission.

    From my experience, I’m guessing that once he changed to ground, he would’ve been asked to call the tower supervisor & discuss the situation. A dispute like this must never take place while the plane is still in the air.

    “Emergency” is a magic word; ATC’s response to a declared emergency should be to ask the pilot’s intentions & clear the way for him to carry them out. The controller in this case may have failed to expeditiously handle a declared emergency. Whether the pilot was justified in declaring an emergency is beside the point and could only be dealt with after the fact.

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