Avianca Flight 52: a Case Study on Human Error

Topics: John F. Kennedy International Airport, Boeing 707, Air traffic control Pages: 3 (804 words) Published: March 31, 2013
Relevant facts/ Background

Avianca Flight 52 touched the ground for a final time on January 25 1990, 16 miles from JFK airport in Cove Neck, Long Island, N.Y., completely out of fuel. The Boeing 707-321B was carrying 158 people coming from Medellin, Columbia, in which 85 people survived. The crash of Avianca Flight 52 was the largest rescue operation in New York prior to 9/11. There was a severe blizzard on the north-east coast of the U.S. causing bad weather with a low pressure system and wind shear. JFK airport authorities had been told to keep a higher landing rate than safe at 33 planes attempting to land per hour, on one runway - the typical rate being 52 in good weather, with all runways open. The airport was experiencing a rate of 27% missed approaches, with 39 planes waiting in holding patterns for clearance to land and dozens waiting to take-off.

Sequence of events

The 707 had been placed in holding patterns for a total of 1 hour and 17 minutes during three separate occasions over the U.S. east coast. There were 6 different air traffic controllers that had communicated directions to Flight 52 after they entered U.S. airspace, adding confusion and un-transmitted messages, yet at the same time not providing any more crucial information such as weather conditions. The Flight Engineer failed to communicate the urgency of the low fuel situation to the pilot and co-pilot after they passed the point of no return and had to remain committed to JFK –by not having enough fuel to get to their alternate airport at Boston, 342km away from JFK. He also failed to emphasize the importance of landing in their first attempt because they would not have enough fuel to loop around and try again. Another discrepancy was how the co-pilot used the words “Low Fuel” and “Priority” rather than “MAYDAY” and “Minimum Fuel” while communicating to ATCs. There was a lot of crucial information left out or misinterpreted and not so important information repeated, which could...
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