Are pilots underworked and overpaid?
Crew judgment, fatigue seen as Ark. crash causes
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Crew judgment and performance, poor weather and pilot fatigue were key elements of a final government report on the 1999 crash of an American Airlines jet that killed 11 people in Arkansas, sources said on Monday.
People familiar with the National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the Little Rock crash said there was some debate in recent days on how much weight to give certain factors.
But they said that investigators had narrowed their focus in their report and the board was ready to publicly review it on Tuesday and vote on probable cause.
One aviation source said the report of the June 1 crash would look closely at the decision to proceed with a landing and not divert the flight to another airport because of stormy weather.
Another focus would be the crew's failure to verify whether the plane's spoilers, flaps on both wings that help with descent and slow the plane after landing, had been deployed. They had not been.
Flight 1420 from Dallas/Fort Worth, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 with 145 passengers and crew aboard, landed in heavy rain and gusting winds, and immediately began to drift right on the runway. While trying to correct its direction, the aircraft skidded off the left side of the 7,200-foot runway.
The jet struck a light stanchion, broke apart and caught fire. The pilot, Capt. Richard Buschmann was killed and first officer, Michael Origel, was among 100 people hurt.
"Had the spoilers been deployed they probably would have been able to stop on the runway," one source said.
The cockpit crew also did not use the plane's automatic brakes and applied the thrust reversers at a higher than normal setting, conditions that may have affected control of the aircraft immediately after landing.
Another source said pilot fatigue would be found as a contributing factor since the crew was close to the end of its 14-hour daily duty limit.
Whether fatigue would be cited as a primary reason for decisions and actions taken by the crew's in the flight's final moments was unclear and loomed as a critical determination.
"It is going to be interesting to see how much that will be debated. There are some board members who are inclined to push harder on fatigue," the initial source said.
Passenger and cargo pilot labor groups have made fatigue a top priority, waging a unified campaign this year to change federal pilot flight and duty time regulations.
The Little Rock crash has been cited by those groups as a clear reason why they believe pilots need to have shorter scheduled work days.
The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to have new rules proposed by the end of the year.