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Opening Statement, Board Meeting: 2015 Aircraft Departure from Runway at LaGuardia, Washington, DC
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Good morning and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt, and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider the accident in which Delta Flight 1086 departed from the runway while landing at LaGuardia Airport, New York, on March 5, 2015.

The accident airplane, a Boeing MD-88 carrying 2 pilots, 3 flight attendants, and 127 passengers, was landing on a snow-covered runway during a winter storm. After landing, the airplane veered left and departed the side of the runway. The airplane came to rest with its nose on an embankment overlooking the frigid waters of Flushing Bay, with its left wing tank leaking fuel.

Inside the airplane, the PA system and the interphone stopped functioning during the accident sequence. For a variety of reasons, including the cabin crew’s response to the loss of these systems, 12 minutes passed before the evacuation of the airplane began.

Many actions combine to enable safe landings in adverse weather. Airports conduct runway clearing operations, pilots report runway and other weather conditions to air traffic control, and air traffic control conveys this information to other pilots.

The accident pilots, in accordance with their procedures, were not going to land at LaGuardia unless they received a report of good braking action on the runway. After trying for some time, they only began to receive such reports minutes before their approach.

As the airplane descended through the clouds, the flight crew did not expect to see that the runway, which had recently been cleared, was covered with snow.

Once the airplane touched down, the pilots immediately engaged reverse thrust to decelerate on the runway. However, in an MD-88, applying too much reverse thrust can result in an effect called rudder blanking, which can undermine the effectiveness of the rudder in maintaining directional control of the airplane.

During our investigation we questioned whether the pilots used reverse thrust in excess of operational guidance for landing the MD-88 on a contaminated runway, and if so, why.

In several instances, these pilots needed information that they did not have, potentially degrading their confidence in the information that was available.

For example, pilots depend on subjective pilot reports of braking action such as “good” and “fair.” In this information age, we asked whether technology could provide pilots precise quantitative braking-action data instead of subjective descriptions.

As you will hear in staff presentations, we learned numerous lessons in the course of investigating this accident. Other lessons already learned in previous accidents were reinforced. We are fortunate to have gained these insights without any loss of life and only minor physical injuries. Regulators, airports, and the airline industry have a responsibility to apply lessons learned from such close calls in order to avoid accidents in which a more serious human toll is exacted.

And make no mistake: This was a very close call.

Now Deputy Managing Director Steve Klejst will introduce the staff.