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Northwest A320 landing incident tied to cocked nose wheel

In what appears on the surface to be a case of déjà vu, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating yet another Airbus A320 that has landed with its nose-wheel twisted at a 90-degree angle.

The incident occurred Saturday night (October 20) when Northwest Airlines Flight 1432, an A320 en route from Minneapolis/St Paul with 134 passengers and a crew of four, landed on Runway 36 at the Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota, scraping its cocked nose-wheel tires as it decelerated to a stop. There were no reported injuries and the aircraft received “minor damage” to the nose-gear assembly, according to the NTSB.

Though the US FAA incident report noted that the aircraft’s nose-gear “caught fire” as the aircraft slid to stop on the runway, NTSB investigator-in-charge for the incident, Pam Sullivan, told ATI no fire retardant was needed. Sullivan however said there were “some sparks from the nose-wheel being ground down on the runway”.

The incident bears striking resemblance to more than a dozen other A320 landing incidents, including the high-profile emergency landing of a JetBlue Airways A320 in September 2005. In that incident, the pilots received warning messages after departing Long Beach for a nonstop flight to JFK airport in New York.

The JetBlue crew ultimately decided to land at the Los Angeles International Airport with the “nose-wheels cocked 90 degrees,” according to the NTSB report on the incident. During the rollout, the NTSB noted that “both nose tires collapsed during the landing roll, and about half of the two wheels was ground off”.  The investigation remains open.

An earlier JetBlue incident, in November 2002, was caused by an incorrect installation of the nose-gear cylinder’s upper cam, one of four different failure modes that US and international investigators have linked to the problems.

Sullivan says it’s too early to tell which of the four failure mechanisms, if any, could have caused Saturday’s incident.

The aircraft remains grounded in Fargo, she says, because there were no hangars large enough in which to park the aircraft to remove the nose-gear assembly, and winds had been too strong to accomplish the work outside until today.

In addition to inspecting the nose-gear, investigators will also listen to the cockpit voice recorder and review information on the flight deck recorder. Sullivan says the pilots had not yet been interviewed.

A Northwest spokesman says: “We’re waiting for a part to be shipped from the manufacturer. My understanding it will be a couple of days [before the aircraft returns to service], but certainly that will be determined by the arrival of the part.”

He says Northwest is “working with the FAA on this”, but that he has “not seen any results of that investigation at this point”.

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