Sources report that a top official at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States has forbidden investigators inspecting why a Horizon Air plane mistakenly landed on a taxiway at Pullman, Washington from listening to cockpit conversations recorded on the aircraft’s Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). An official familiar with the issue says that the order came from John Duncan, the FAA’s head of flight standards who is in charge of the FAA’s flight inspectors. The official has requested to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
“It’s a cover-up from the FAA at the highest level,” the source said. “We don’t want this to happen again because next time [an aircraft] could hit someone [on the taxiway] and people will die.”
“The FAA does not comment on pending investigations,” said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor, who declined to give further comment.
The Horizon Jet was able to land safely despite touching down on a taxiway.
This limitation is especially troubling when considering other recent incidents involving unordinary landings. Three of those incidents occurred at San Francisco International airport, including a similar incident when an Air Canada jet almost landed on a crowded taxiway. CVRs are crucial to determine what caused incidents like this December 29th incident.
After the incident, U.S. Representative Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) wrote to the FAA, pushing for a public hearing on the issue. DeSaulnier has been pushing for improvements on how cockpit recordings are collected.
“We need to get to the bottom of these [cases],” DeSaulnier said. “We need to understand what the standards are, if they are followed, and they need to be strengthened.”
On December 29th, 2017, Horizon Air flight 2184 landed on a taxiway at Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport in Whitman County, Washington during a rainstorm that had shorted out runway lights. Alaska Airlines, which operates Horizon, said that the pilots misidentified Taxiway Alpha as Runway 6. Both pilots have reportedly been temporarily suspended from flying while the investigation is ongoing.
It isn’t always required that the CVR be retrieved after incidents like this one. If flight recorders aren’t recovered, they will eventually be overwritten.
“If I were doing [the investigation] and I didn’t have all the information, I couldn’t close the investigation. It is that crucial … The CVR will tell you everything,” the source said of the cockpit recordings. “[The FAA] flat out told them you can’t listen to that tape. To me, that’s very troubling. It helps us figure things out in case someone lies to us [in an interview].”
Featured Image by Eric Salard via Wikimedia Commons