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The accident involving Flight 1420 that occurred on June 1, 1999, should not have happened. The flight crew had two human factor failure attributes. First, the responsible parties took the wrong approach to land under bad weather. Second, the flight crew made a skill-based error by failing to deploy the spoilers for a safe landing. The two errors fall under the first level of the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFACS).
Aircraft accidents are rare, which makes this mode of transport the safest in contemporary times. However, aircraft accidents occur in some cases. According to the HFACS, such accidents occur due to a number of issues like organizational influences, unsafe acts, unsafe supervision, and preconditions for unsafe acts (Wiegmann & Shappell, 2003). This paper is an analysis of an aircraft accident that occurred on June 1, 1999, at Little Rock, Arkansas. The accident involved Flight 1420.
Key human factor failure
The most outstanding human factor failure is decision error, which falls under the broad category of the HFACS’ level 1 of unsafe acts. This human factor failure lies under the error subdivision. After the “second wind shear alert was received, the flight crew should have recognized that the approach to runway 4R should not continue because the maximum crosswind component for conducting the landing had been exceeded” (National Transportation Safety Board, 2001, p. 167).
Therefore, the cause, in this case, was the crew’s failure to make the appropriate decision to avoid landing under bad weather. Initially, the weather was favorable, and arguably, the flight crew had all the reasons to believe that they could get to the runway before the thunderstorm. However, the thunderstorm escalated rapidly, and at this point, the flight crew should have changed their course of action. Unfortunately, the crew did not make this critical decision, which led to the accident.
The second human factor failure is a skill-based error, which also falls under unsafe acts. Investigations revealed that the spoilers failed to deploy automatically because the “reverted rubber hydroplaning did not occur during the accident airplane’s landing rollout as the spoiler handle was not armed by either pilot before landing” (National Transportation Safety Board, 2001, p. 167). This aspect reveals a lack of requisite skills to handle such a scenario.
Conventionally, spoilers play a critical role in landing, and they should deploy in advance for safe landing (Collins, 2013). Therefore, the cause, in this case, was the pilots’ inability to spread the spoilers. The effect of this shortcoming was the resultant runway overrun of the aircraft.
The report concludes, “The lack of spoiler deployment was the single most important factor in the flight crew’s inability to stop the accident airplane within the available runway length” (National Transportation Safety Board, 2001, p. 168). If the crew had the requisite skills, they could have surmounted the rough weather challenge to land the aircraft safely.
The decision error to land under bad weather probably created panic, which unveiled the flight crew’s lack of skills to handle such a situation. Therefore, the chain started with poor decision making, which led to improper handling of the aircraft during landing, thus ultimately causing an accident.
Even though air transport is the safest mode of transport in the 21st Century, aircraft accidents occur at times. The American Airlines Flight 1420 runway overrun during landing happened due to two major human factor failures.
The two factors fall under level 1 of the HFACS, viz. decision errors, and skill-based errors, which are categorized under the errors section. The flight crew should have changed their approach after realizing that the thunderstorm had escalated faster than expected. In addition, the crew should have followed the set landing protocols.
Collins, M. (2013). Intentional Safety: A Reflection on Unsafe Flight. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris LLC.
National Transportation Safety Board. (2001). Runway Overrun during Landing, American Airlines Flight 1420, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, N215AA, Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 1999: Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-01/02. Washington, DC: NTSB.
Wiegmann, D., & Shappell, S. (2003). A Human Error Approach to Aviation Accident Analysis: The Human Factors Analysis and Classification System. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.