American Airlines Pilots Refuse Recorded Interview With Safety Board

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The National Transportation Safety Board said Friday that it had subpoenaed the pilots of an American Airlines plane that crossed in front of another jet that had been cleared to take off last month at Kennedy International Airport. The agency took the step after the pilots declined its request for electronically recorded interviews.

According to a preliminary report on the close call by the safety board, the American Airlines plane crossed a runway on Jan. 13 without clearance from air traffic control. That forced controllers to instruct pilots of a Delta Air Lines plane to abort their takeoff. The planes came within 1,400 feet of each other.

The union that represents American Airlines pilots said in a statement that it objected to electronic audio recordings because the practice could make pilots less candid.

An interview that puts pilots at ease “is critical to getting the most information in any safety investigation,” Capt. Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union, said in an interview. In a statement, the union said the safety board had recently begun requiring some witnesses to be electronically recorded.

But the safety board said in a statement that recording interviews was a “longstanding practice” and that its staff had recorded interviews in “numerous past investigations involving commercial airlines.” The board said it had told the American Airlines pilots that a court reporter would also record their testimony and provide them with a transcript that they could review for accuracy.

The American Airlines crew have seven days to respond to the subpoenas, the agency said.

It said it had reviewed written statements from the Delta crew, adding that “their statements contain sufficient information for N.T.S.B. investigative purposes given their role in the incident.”

The cockpit recordings in both planes were “overwritten,” the safety board said, meaning that they were taped over, leaving no audio record of what pilots in either plane said to one another during the incident. The equipment that records cockpit conversations is designed to overwrite itself after two hours.

In its statement, the safety board noted that it recommended in 2018 that the Federal Aviation Administration require that cockpit voice recorders be capable of recording at least 25 hours of audio.

Last week, a Southwest plane and a FedEx jet narrowly avoided a collision at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas.