NTSB: American Airlines breached protocol in Jackson Hole safety investigation

The NTSB has announced that American Airlines personnel breached safety investigation protocol in the Dec. 29 Jackson Hole runway overrun incident, and that the Board has revoked the party status of American and excused the airline from further participation in the investigation.

December 31, 2010 –- On Wednesday, December 29, American Airlines flight 2253, a B-757-200 inbound from Chicago O’Hare International Airport, ran off the end of a runway in snowy conditions while landing at Jackson Hole Airport near Jackson, Wyoming.

No injuries were reported among the 181 passengers and crew, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is conducting an investigation, including analysis of both the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and digital flight data recorder (DFDR).

Today the NTSB announced that American Airlines personnel breached safety investigation protocol by downloading information from the DFDR before turning it over to the Board.

According to a press release issued by the NTSB, in “commercial aviation incident” investigations (defined as “one where no serious injuries or substantial damage to the aircraft or other property occurred”), the “Safety Board frequently asks the airline involved to transport the recorder on their own aircraft as such an arrangement often provides the most expeditious means of conveying the devices to Safety Board labs in Washington.” However, the airline is instructed to transport the recorders “without delay and without accessing the information contained within them by any means.”

The NTSB says it has learned that the recorders were flown to Tulsa, where American Airlines technicians downloaded information from the DFDR. (The CVR was not accessed.)

“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 conduct for any organization granted party status in an NTSB investigation,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. As a result, “we have revoked the party status of American Airlines and excused them from further participation in this incident investigation,” continued Hersman.

The NTSB notes it will continue to provide American with “any and all information needed to ensure a timely response to operational safety deficiencies identified in the course of the investigation.”