FAA Investigating Airline After 3 Rough Landings During the same month that Flight 331 skidded off a runway in Jamaica, two other American planes experienced problems as they landed. In these instances, a tip of the wing touched the runway. Nobody was injured on either flight, but the agency wants to increase oversight of the airline to figure out if there's a pattern.

FAA Investigating Airline After 3 Rough Landings

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. You may remember that two weeks ago an American Airlines jet skidded off a runway in Jamaica. The fuselage cracked, dozens of passengers were injured. But that wasn't the only landing problem American had last month.

Two other planes � one in North Carolina, another in Texas � also had landing problems. And now the Federal Aviation Administration says it's increasing its oversight of American Airlines to figure out if there's a pattern. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: The two other rough landings, on December 13 in Charlotte and December 24 in Austin, were far less serious than the Jamaican accident. Both of the U.S. incidents involved MD-80 series jets, and in both cases the tips of the planes wings touched the runway as the aircraft landed. Nobody was injured on either flight, but it's unusual for a major airline to have three bad landings in the course of just a couple weeks.

And the FAA says it will increase its oversight of American to try to figure out why it happened. Aviation safety consultant Todd Curtis, who runs the Web site Airsafe.com, says regulators likely will look into whether the mishaps are symptoms of some larger problem in American's operation.

Mr. TODD CURTIS (Aviation Safety Consultant): Every airline develops its own procedures, both for maintenance and for flying. So one kind of scrutiny could be gone through to make sure that those procedures were actually done. The second thing that could be done is that they could have FAA flight examiners basically looking over the shoulders of some pilots to see whether or not they are operating in accordance with FAA regulation.

HOCHBERG: American says it's cooperating with the FAA on the matter. Airline officials declined to be interviewed, but issued a written statement saying the company is conducting an internal review of the wingtip incidents and is working with authorities investigating the crash landing in Kingston, Jamaica.

The company says it's discovered no connection among the three events, and Bill Waldock, an aerospace safety professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, sees no obvious link either.

Professor BILL WALDOCK (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University): Two of the three airplanes were MD-80 aircraft that has a wing that's relatively low to the ground and a different set of landing characteristics than the 737 that actually crashed in Kingston. Right now we're not sure if they're related.

HOCHBERG: Waldock says these kinds of FAA actions are uncommon but not unheard of in the aviation industry. In 2008, for instance, the agency ordered a wide review of maintenance records after fuselage cracks were found in several Southwest Airlines jets.

Still, Waldock says he's seen nothing about the investigation that causes him concern about the safety of flying. And other aviation experts doubt that the three landing mishaps will affect consumers' faith in air travel, especially now, when a seemingly more pressing issue � terrorism � is dominating the news.

David Field is a veteran aviation journalist and a former editor at Airline Business magazine.

Mr. DAVID FIELD (Aviation journalist): Most people believe that air travel is safe, and even when you believe that air travel has a significant risk factor, it's the other guy it happens to, not you.

(Soundbite of airport)

HOCHBERG: At Reagan National Airport in Washington yesterday, few passengers expressed concern about their safety, taking in stride both the recent headlines about terrorism and about problems like landing mishaps. Renee Lyons, flying home to South Carolina after visiting her family, said she's aware of the recent turbulence in the airline industry, but she says she won't stop flying because of it.

Ms. RENEE LYONS: You can't really live in fear forever. If you got to go visit your family, you got to go. I mean, you're in danger driving on the road of a car accident. So I just look at it like when it's my time to go, I'll go. I'm not going to stop living my life out of fear for what's going to happen.

HOCHBERG: There been no evidence that anything that's happened in the past month has discouraged people from flying. Though the number of passengers was already down because of the economy, there's been no sign of a further drop because of safety or security worries.

But David Field, the aviation journalist, says people might start to shy away from air travel if the failed bombing leads to an increase in the amount of time it takes to get through security checkpoints. He says people are more deterred by the hassle and inconvenience of security screening than they are by actual concerns about their safety.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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