NTSB: No further action on American download blunder

Washington DC
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The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says it will not pursue any penalties or other actions against American Airlines for breaking protocol by downloading the flight deck recorder of a Boeing 757 involved in a runway overrun at the Jackson Hole airport on 29 December.

Flight 2253 exited the usable portion of Runway 19 at Jackson Hole on landing that day, coming to rest approximately 107m (350ft) beyond the runway overrun area in hard packed snow. There were no injuries to the 181 passengers and crew on board and an initial inspection showed no mechanical damage to the aircraft.

A video that later appeared on line from a passenger on board shows that the aircraft's thrust reversers were activated well into the landing run rather than immediately after touchdown, indicating a potential equipment or operational difficulty.

As part of the investigation however, the NTSB learned that American Airlines technicians had downloaded the digital flight deck recorder (DFDR) during a stopover in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the DFDR and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) were being routed by American to the NTSB in Washington. The airline did not download the CVR.

"Although a thorough examination by our investigators determined that no information from the DFDR was missing or altered in any way, the breach of protocol by American Airlines personnel violates the Safety Board's standards of conduct for any organization granted party status in an NTSB investigation," said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman on 31 December. As a result, the NTSB banned American from participating in the investigation.

American admits that it downloaded the DFDR, but says in a statement it was "part of its normal safety investigation" of the incident. "At no point in the process was the data on the DFDR compromised," the airline says. "There was no attempt to circumvent any collaborative process with the NTSB or FAA."

American says it has begun an internal review of its procedures "to insure that it is in full compliance with the NTSB."

The NTSB apparently has agreed with the carrier's review of processes and will not pursue further actions. A spokesman says the error is being viewed as a "single incident" and that officials have been assured "it's not going to recur".