Ask the Captain: Jamaica Airplane Crash

Plane Talk: Got a question? Ask the Captain!

Do you have a question about airline safety, flight etiquette, jet lag, or air travel in general? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column.

by W. M. Wiggins

What did you see as the problem in the American Airlines Jamaica runway accident? 


First, I saw the problem, landing with a tailwind (possibly) out of limits. Then I see what appears to be some of the best publications relations in the realm of corporate aviation.

 The following is my opinion:

Basic airplane 101 says, point that little puppy (the jet or “de plane”, “de plane” ) into the wind for all takeoffs and landings.

The “Specs” or specifications for the Boeing 737-800 say max takeoff / landing tailwind component is 10 knots. Please note, it does NOT say About, Sorta’or Kinda’10 kts. It says 10 kts. This will be important later.

Then the  “Specs” goes on to say…There “May” be 15kts ( tailwind) as customer option. Hmmm? Seems just a tad contradictory, yes?

Uh, NO, not really.

What that means, basically, is that Boeing is “on the hook legally” for that 10 kt tailwind number.

Now, but, but, but what about that 15 kts?

Well, that’s “Show me the $$ money $$ time. Boeing will certify that extra 5 kt tailwind limitation if the air carrier/ owner is willing to cough up a ton of extra coin…and I do mean a ton of coin. This puts Boeing on the legal hook for that certified number. MOST air carriers do not buy this option. I would think the bigger the carrier, the less the chance there will be for the “purchase” of that extra 5 kts. of “LEGALITY”. (that extra dough to Boeing is for more testing, extensive testing the higher limits and of course, for the LEGALITY).

Here’s where the PR jumped into action. I’m guessing, but I’d call it “muddy the water…quick, quick”.

Corporate public relations is to control the media. So, when you see in the newspapers that at the time of the accident, the tailwinds on that runway used were ABOUT 16 kts and the tailwind limitation on that kind of airplane is ABOUT 17 kts…… To me, it smells ABOUT like…HORSE POOP!

Great PR, but do the math. It’s really all about the legality.

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Answering your questions in our ASK THE CAPTAIN column is, Michael Wiggins, a retired airline pilot who has spent the better part of his life shuttling passengers around the globe. Do you have questions for YourLifeIsATrip's airline pilot? Submit your question and look for answers in a future column. 

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