Near Disaster As American Airlines Plane Passes In Front Of Departing Delta Jet In New York

On Friday night, American Airlines flight 106 from New York JFK to London Heathrow had a near-collision with a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 headed to Santo Domingo. The American plane appears to have attempted to depart from the wrong runway. The incident was first reported early Saturday morning by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

The American Airlines aircraft was supposed to depart runway 4L, but held short of 31L – and crossed in front of the Delta plane. Air traffic control yelled, “Delta 1943 cancel takeoff clearance!” The Delta plane stopped its takeoff, and cleared the runway.

ATC:Shit! Delta 1943 cancel takeoff clearance! Delta 1943 cancel takeoff clearance.

Delta: Rejecting

ATC: Alright, whew, Delta 1943. Delta 1943 are you able to taxi, or do you need a couple of minutes to run checks?

Delta: Yeah we can get off the runway Delta 1943.

Meanwhile air traffic control had words for American crossing in front of an active runway:

American: The last clearance we were given, we were cleared to cross is that correct?

ATC: American 106 Heavy, we’re departing runway 4 left, I guess we’ll listen to the tapes but you’re supposed to depart runway 4 left, you’re currently holding short of runway 31 left.

JonNYC shares the air traffic control audio excerpts:

At 14 seconds into this illustration you can see the Delta plane begin its takeoff roll, aborting at the last minute as the American Airlines Boeing 777-200 crossed right in front of it.

A passenger on the Delta flight, Brian Healy, reports that Delta 1943 had accelerated for “2 or 3 seconds” when it began braking, to the astonishment of passengers who “gasp[ed]” and fell into “total silence” before hearing from the captain who told passengers that they had been ordered by air traffic control to abort. They taxied back to the gate, and tried again the next morning.

Here’s a report that JonNYC relays from someone on board the American flight.

Ultimately air traffic control saw what was happening and acted quickly when, it appears, the American flight to London misheard its instructions. I’ve reached out to American Airlines for a statement and will update if I hear back.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Wow. I’m sure Tenerife, 1977, was on everyone’s mind. For General Aviation the FAA has lately really been pushing runway identification and proper taxing standards. There are careful protocols for crossing both active and inactive runways, but airports can be complicated. Guess they’ll be reviewing JFK’s procedures in great depth now. Good for ATC catching this in time.

  2. APA: …”but we deserve [insert ridiculous percentage pay increase] for our skill and “professionalism”. The crew of AA106 could have cost hundreds of people their lives. I’m relived that wasn’t the case.

  3. Been retired for years but back in the day those AA pilots would be filing a report with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) effectively preventing any punitive enforcement by FAA. Is it still same today?

  4. while an unacceptable mistake was made, it’s not yet known that the flights would have collided if delta continued the take off roll, nor that the aa plane was on the runway at the same time delta was rolling down the runway. lets see what the investigation reveals

  5. @chris –

    You should be the pilot of every flight in the world, after all you don’t seem to make mistakes ever, and on top of that, you are the dream employee for any airline since you don’t seem to think employees deserve a fair pay.

    There is nothing better airlines would love than you, an infallible pilot working for very little.

  6. Why aren’t there sensors on the ground to coordinate with ATC instructions and alert if someone doesn’t follow correctly? Seems basic

  7. The Delta pilots are NOT getting anywhere near a 30 percent raise.

    They have been without a new contract for 7 years….try around 4% a year….not enough for this inflation.

  8. it appears that JonNYC says he is on AA106 which shouldn’t make it too hard for AA to figure out who he is.
    I am sure they are tired of him blabbing all of their internal info.
    A runway incursion and RTO is a significant enough event but he was the one that brought it to media attention.
    Not a sterling look for AA and not one they would like shared across the internet.

    Glad ATC was paying close attention and DL acted quickly.

  9. @Tim Dunn – JonNYC wasn’t on the plane. There are quotation marks around the “was on AA106 last night…” quote.

    The media has a right to know publicly available information and eyewitness sources of safety related incidents.

  10. @ Helldodge
    I thought the DL pilots were supposed to vote ‘NO’ on the TA over the Skyclub thing……to show Ed.
    By the way, AA pilots are represented by APA (not ALPA) and no, killing hundreds of people is not usually a sign of skill or professionalism.

  11. Wow. Kudos to ATC and DL for catching and reacting so quickly.

    Just out of curiosity, is there an automation that assisted ATC in catching the incursion or pure skill / luck? What about a/c systems to alert to incursions?


  12. @Abbey

    Why doesn’t every commercial Airport, commercial plane and airport vehicle have ground sensors so ground controllers and air traffic controllers known exactly where everyone is:

    it might have to do with $500 billion a year spent on housing, feeding, schooling, and etc of illegals and their kids with your state and federal tax dollars, the hundreds of billions sent for globalists to launder in Ukraine, or gender studies in Pakistan. After what happened with the Singapore 747 crash over 20 years ago, you’d think that things would change. Nearly all commercial airports are govt. owned yet where are these sensors?

    It certainly doesn’t help that these workers are basically government workers with no incentive to do anything positive for safety. They opposed privatization of ATC that would have made things efficient and more expedient. Airports being congested because of poor ATC operations doesn’t make us safer.

    The unionist bureaucracy is why Amtrack is terrible and Boeing has declined [big govt. defense contractor that operates like Ukraine]

  13. Correct me if I am wrong. I thought JFK had stop lights on active runways? EWR has them also. If WX was bad, we’d be
    Really deep into it.
    Also let’s hear ground tapes. Why did AA think Zulu/ 31-L was
    Route of taxi? Lots going on here

  14. @Tim Dunn – no “internal info” was “blabb[ed]” here. Air traffic control audio, etc. He is the one that brought a public event to public attention. There is nothing wrong with that.

    And he was not on the aircraft in question. In any case, I’m confident American knows who Jon is by now and there’s nothing actionable in what he’s done AFAIK.

  15. I used to use LiveATC TWR to put me to sleep at night. It worked great, but every few weeks I’d wake up in the middle of the night to an emergency or an irregularity resulting in a go-around.
    There’s a lot that happens that doesn’t make the news (or the Avherald, which is one guy who doesn’t disclose his sources).
    JFK Tower has a lot of listeners, so if something happens there, someone is likely to notice.
    Looks like AA was supposed to make a right turn and was cleared to cross 31, but missed the turn and crossed 4. JFK has RWSL (Google those two), so they would have blown a stop sign too. All the fancy toys failed here.
    As for why DL left fifteen hours later, well, the pilots could have timed out. Or they could have sat there, staring at the side of that heavy, and decided “nope. We’re done for the night.”
    Makes sense. One of the times I woke up was on the arrival of a flight that had already done a return after takeoff due to a medical emergency. After landing and taking off again, and flying five hours, Tower sent them around after they lined up on the parallel runway.

  16. Its called ground proximity radar and it works through the aircraft transponder and ADS-b-c information. ATC gets a loud warning an aircraft has crossed the active runway hold line. ATC does not need to see anything visually. Its designed mostly for low visibility but also for non-compliance of ATC instructions as in this case. The system works(-ed) perfectly. Also, there may have been “red hold bar centerline taxi” lights or “hold bar” lights for AA that they did not see and taxied through them. Have to look at taxiway J for that. Those are installed at many “hotspots” or common high traffic areas where aircraft cross the active runway frequently.

  17. Gary,
    no, there is nothing wrong with what he reported here but Jon leaks plenty of internal, confidential info.
    In case he doesn’t get it, AA is undoubtedly looking for the source.
    Since there was no subject to the sentence he wrote, it could have appeared that he was on the flight.

  18. @Timm Dunn – Agree with Gary. Do you really think AA doesn’t know who he is? Just because something was discussed internally doesn’t mean, the release wasn’t authorized. Even if not, doesn’t mean they’re upset with Jon.

    @Dr Westbrook – they do. However it’s hard to have system know what to alarm about vs not. Too many alarms and it gets ignored.

    As for privatization. Let’s be real. Private companies invest the minimum $ they can. Government has its own issues. However for safety type stuff, it’s better as the $ isn’t the driving factor. Interestingly, some major airlines are opposed to privatization.

    @SadStateofOurCountry – the problem is they face no punishment, no matter how badly they screwed up. Humans make mistakes, however we have to deal with the effects of making one. Does that mean revoking a pilots license everytime? No. However it might mean remedial action, a refresher course, etc..

    @Anthony – plane needs to be checked out. The brakes would’ve gotten very hot. Plus the stresses on pilots.

  19. Unfortunately taxing on airports is actually harder than navigating across oceans and the most remote area of the world.
    More investment must be made in runway light stop bars and sensors for aircraft.
    New York ATC should be required to maintain better standard ATC terminology to cut down on extraneous radio transmissions. I do not know if this was a factor on this flight but they do far too much of this and it leads to confusion. If you query them they get quite annoyed.
    I’m glad it all worked out but any incidence like this has many facets and we need to be careful not to simplify the reasons it happened

  20. JFK doesn’t even have taxi lights in most areas. They prioritize noise abatement and service volume over safety all the time. Professional pilots have saved more incidents by far then may occur at JFK. There is no reporting of the daily saves, only the ones that get close. And the professional pilots of the Delta aircraft saved the day today. Tomorrow it could be American or JetBlue or Turkish.

  21. flyerco,
    there is no company that allows an employee or any other person to release information that has not been released to the public through normal channels.
    Just because this incident was already public doesn’t mean that Jon hasn’t released plenty of information that AA doesn’t want released at the time Jon releases it.
    Since Gary has internal employee sources at AA and other airlines that feed him information, I don’t expect he will ever agree that using anonymous sources is not the height of journalism. And I’m not saying Gary shouldn’t use the info that someone is willing to leak – but I can assure you that AA doesn’t want someone leaking the info that gets leaked. They, by far, have the most loose lipped employees.

  22. @Tim Dunn – as a general matter of course AA doesn’t want leaks, doesn’t want employees sharing information without approval… at some level… however for years under Elise Eberwein the airline didn’t really do anything much about employees communicating in social media and she really limited internal investigations of leaks. She thought the cost to the culture of leak investigations was worse.

    There are times where anonymous sourcing is appropriate, and times where it isn’t – you are welcome to discount anything I write based on not knowing details of the source if you wish!

  23. I’m not discounting anything you have written – because everything you have gained that wasn’t public has turned out to be correct. Accurate sources isn’t the same thing as being the best sources, though.
    And I disagree with Elise that you hurt a company’s culture more by allowing people to undercut the system than in dealing w/ leaks.
    But let’s face two things: AA is not and has not been a bastion of employee or company culture in a long time and you benefit from AA’s leaky culture so aren’t likely to see anything wrong with it.

  24. @ Dr Westbrook. Sorry that some of these refugees need help not like you relatives did when they invaded the USA in the 1900s and my family had to deal with them. Since we at least come over on the Mayflower as the second invaders after the indigenous did

  25. What pisses me off about this is, the offending flight took off as scheduled. That pilot should be grounded.
    The Delta flight got postponed for the next day. If I wee Delta I’d be suing American Airlines for a bit of money.
    Kind of reminds me of the time when Harrison Ford cut across a runway in similar fashion.. Just not paying attention..

  26. (Captain-male) AA mistakes:
    Not briefing the taxi route
    Not understanding the taxi clearance
    Missing the right turn to 04L (on K)
    Not confirming crossing clearance on 31L at K
    Not clearing (visually) (any) runway when crossing (especially when an aircraft is on a runway you are about to cross in takeoff position (or rolling) with it’s landing lights on.
    Poor SA
    (Kudos to Delta/ATC for good SA)
    (Sadly AA F/O was “along for the ride,” also with poor SA)
    ASRS will be submitted.
    Capt and F/O) will receive remedial training.
    Company (AA) will submit Operation Bulletin.
    NTSB will recommend more stop lights.
    FAA will try to “fix” the problem with another FAR?
    Public will forget whole incident after a few days.

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