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American Kingston overrun triggers tailwind training recommendations

A 2009 overrun of an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Kingston, Jamaica has prompted the US National Transportation Safety Board to recommend that the US Federal Aviation Administration require training for landing in tailwind conditions.

The aircraft landed roughly 1,219m (4,000ft) down the 2,716m runway with a 14kt tailwind and was unable to stop on the remaining runway length.

Once the aircraft ran off the runway, it went through a fence, across a road, and came to a stop on sand dunes and rocks about the Caribbean Sea's waterline, said NTSB.

Pilots opted to perform a straight-in approach on runway 12 even after controllers advised the crew it might be necessary to circle and land on runway 30. The tower advised the pilots runway 12 was wet.

NTSB said the crew configured the aircraft for landing with a flap setting of 30 degrees instead of the full flap setting of 40 degrees. The board pointed out the American Airlines 737 operating manual recommends the 40 degree setting when landing with tailwinds.

But in a post-accident interview the Captain stated the 30 degree setting "was normal for this situation", adding that "for these conditions and for the go-around, flaps 30 was the better choice".

NTSB has concluded that the American accident "highlights deficiencies in operational procedures and flight crew training and guidance concerning landing in tailwind conditions that should be addressed".

The board stated federal regulations do not require airlines to train pilots for tailwind landings, and believes "because of a tailwind approach and landing, particularly on wet or contaminated runways, expose flight crews to additional risks and challenges, they should be provided current and comprehensive guidance regarding the risks associated with tailwind landings and made aware of reduced margins of safety during tailwind operations".

Stressing the risks posed by landing in those conditions NTSB said any tailwind "increases the approach and touchdown groundspeed of an aircraft, requiring more runway length to decelerate". Landing within the touchdown zone - the first third of the available landing distance and no more than 914m down the available landing distance - is a task made more challenging in tailwind conditions, said the board.

The board also concluded that if the American crew had performed an arrival landing distance assessment, they would have determined, based on the airline's landing distance charts, the aircraft was capable of landing with a 30 degree flap setting in the 14 knot tailwind.

"However the arrival landing distance assessment would also have alerted pilots that the stopping margin under these conditions was reduced, which may have prompted them to consider overrun risk mitigation strategies, such as using full flaps and maximum manual breaking, selecting a different runway, considering a go-around or choosing to divert," said the board.

Recommendations stemming from the Kingston overrun include requiring FAA principal inspectors to review flight crew training programmes to ensure training in tailwind landings is provided during initial and recurrent simulator training, is conducted with an emphasis of landing within the touchdown zone and being prepared for a go-around and conducted at the maximum tailwind component certified for the aircraft on which the pilots are being trained.

The board also believes the FAA needs to revise guidance on preventing runway overruns to include risks related to tailwind landings, including tailwind landings on wet or contaminated runways.

NTSB also reminded FAA of a previous recommendation the board deemed unacceptable that would require operators to accomplish landing distance assessments before every landing based on a standardised methodology "involving approved performance data, actual arrival conditions, a means of correlating the airplane's breaking ability with runway surface conditions using the most conservative interpretation available, and including a safety margin of 15%".

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