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Kingston overrun triggers tailwind training recommendations

The overrun of an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 at Kingston, Jamaica two years ago, has prompted investigators to seek a requirement for training to land in tailwind conditions.

The aircraft landed about 1,200m (4,000ft) down the 2,716m runway with a 14kt (26km/h) tailwind and was unable to stop on the remaining runway length. It crashed through a fence, across a road, and came to a stop on sand dunes and rocks on Caribbean Sea waterline.

Pilots opted to perform a straight-in approach to 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.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said the crew configured the aircraft for landing with a 30e_SDgr flap setting instead of the full setting of 40e_SDgr. It pointed out that the American 737 operating manual recommends the 40e_SDgr setting when landing with tailwinds.

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

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

It stated that federal regulations do not require airlines to train pilots for tailwind landings and believes that, because of the additional risks to crews, they should "be provided current and comprehensive guidance" and be "made aware of reduced margins of safety".

Tailwinds raise the aircraft's approach speed, requiring more runway length to decelerate, and increase the difficulty of landing within the touchdown zone.

If the American crew had performed an arrival landing distance assessment, said the NTSB, the pilots would have determined, based on the airline's landing distance charts, that the aircraft was capable of landing with a 30e_SDgr flap setting with the 14kt 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," it added.

The NTSB's recommendations include reviewing crew training programmes, ensuring simulator work for tailwind approaches focuses on landings in the touchdown zone, and that pilots are prepared for a go-around.

It also believes the Federal Aviation Administration needs to revise guidance on preventing runway overruns, to include risks related to tailwind landings - particularly on wet runways.

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