American Airlines at Little Rock

Lets discuss American Airlines at Little Rock. What were the dispatcher duties when the aircraft approached the field, with major thunderstorms in the vicinity?

Published by Capt. Paul Miller

Aviation safety expert with 43 years in the sky

3 thoughts on “American Airlines at Little Rock

  1. 1420 was dispatched to Little Rock 1 June 1999 as a passenger flight from Dallas. The crew assigned was fully qualified, certified, trained, scheduled and dispatched at the beginning of the flight.By the flight’s end, which culminated in a disastrous excursion off the end of the runway, the investigation concluded that the captain was now for want of better terminology, unqualified, under-trained, uncertifiable.My first question is, “If this is so, then why and how was he assigned as the captain of the flight at the beginning?”My second question is, “Why was the issue of scheduling and dispatch never closely examined and reported on in the investigation? When did the FAR Part 121 Scheduled American Airlines Operation cease to include the American Airlines Dispatch or Flight Control Office? At what point in the flight did the crew no longer fall under the direct operational control of American Airlines Flight Crew Scheduling Office?”I ask these questions since the captain, fatally injured in the mishap, was not able to do so in his own behalf. As a flight crew member, FAR Part 121 at no time breaks the direct operational control between the dispatcher and the pilots nor the scheduler and the pilots. As any airline pilot about the relationship between them and crew scheduling and them and dispatch. They will all tell you that the control is absolute and non-optional from report to the end of duty day.In another very important fact a flight crew relies directly on dispatch to provide the operation with the most updated weather information, both during preflight and during the flight. In this case a serious convective weather system was rapidly moving through the area of the Little Rock airport. Flight crew with what is called a pencil beam one centimeter on board weather radar can see small details ahead, good for supporting tactical decisions such as left or right of flight path, up or down in altitude. But dispatch with National Weather Radar synthesized summary moving charts on computer screens have a much bigger picture, a picture clearer for strategic decisions, such as to hold, alter course, divert or continue.Yet the NTSB did not hold dispatch accountable for their recommendation to continue into an area of known severe convective activity, a clear violation of FAR’s and of AA own Flight Operations Policy to avoid thunderstorms by many miles.Nor did they recommend a fuller level of supportive participation in the weather advisory role, and especially so in this case since dispatch did make an operational decision to continue the flight towards its original destination, though weather was clearly a safety issue.Crew fatigue, always a scheduling issue, was never brought to the table as a contributing factor. Transcripts show clearly that the crew at destination was becoming overwhelmed with information, slow in their decision making process and deteriorating in judgment. But the long day of over 12 duty hours, a scheduled day, was not listed as contributing to the mishap. But the board cited the inability of the crew to keep up with the rapidly deteriorating safety facing the flight as it tried to land.Where was the meteorology support of dispatch as the crew entered into a strong wind field directly affected by the physics of high convective flow from the nearby thunderstorm? Remember it was not the rain which pushed the plane off of centerline and extended the landing distance, it was the wind field. Where was that windfield data before landing for the crew to use? If the citation of the failure to deploy spoilers was considerd so important by the board so as to blame the failure to deploy as a factor in the mishap, why would not the presence of severe unfavorable wind fields not be considered by the board as equally hazardous and equivalently accountable for the physics of the aircraft’s motion on the runway?Notice that the investigation was able to provide accurate wind field data after the mishap! So the detailed wind data must have been there and available before the mishap; it was just never made available to the crew before landing.Why was that? If it was a factor in the mishap, why was it not a standard factor in the landing procedure? So dispatch and fatigue were left “under-investigated” in my conclusion. No major recommendations concerning these areas came out of the investigation. Therefore no mishap preventive progress was achieved by the board. They essentially only achieved the assignment of blame. But that is clearly not the fuction of the NTSB, is it, according to their own self described mission? I wonder what your thoughts are on this, with respect to preventing mishaps in commercial aviation? Thank you.


  2. It almost sounds as if the physics of the pocketbook and the psychologic effects of admitting mistakes were made in support of the flight were determinate factors in the investigation. It’s soooo much easier to blame the dead guy than to contend with the aforementioned sciences.It also seems as if “Puff the Magic Dragon” was a factor. First he’s well trained and qualified — then he’s not; first the have the wind profile — then they don’t. First they determine that fatigue could have been a contributing factor — then, so what…Why did they have this accident board investigation?


  3. More than one issue requires attention at an aviation mishap scene. The issue of safety, the issue of damage and injury and the issue of certification are three major issues requiring attention. They are all different and require differing investigations. The NTSB has failed to keep these three issues separated in their process, thereby intertwining and failing to resolve important safety hazards.One example in this case is the fact that the wind blew the aircraft substantially. This is the physics of aviation. Yet the failure of FAA ATC to tactically integrate National Weather Service windfield information into ATC procedures was not addressed and therefore as of today remains a hazard to commercial aviation. Safety was not addressed in the NTSB investigation. In my opinion the NTSB investigation focused on finding fault, vs cause. In tort law, fault can only be found with a person, since non animate object such as the wind can’t be made to pay. So ATC sits behind the shadow of the wind and avoids culpability. At the same time NWS and ATC do not provide the available wind field data of which they are in possession.The hazard puts the general flying public at great risk.


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