HONOLULU – American Airlines confirms to CNN that it accidentally put an Airbus A321S aircraft — that was not certified to fly over the Pacific — on a long-haul flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii.
American spokesman Casey Norton said “someone on the ground” realized the mix-up sometime after AA Flight 31 had departed LAX on August 31st, filled with passengers and crew. American Airlines declined to identify who first noticed the mistake.
Norton said American immediately notified the flight crew and the Federal Aviation Administration and the decision was made to allow the crew to complete the flight, and the plane landed safely in Honolulu.
Hawaii-bound aircraft are required by the FAA to have extra fire suppression equipment in the cargo hold and extra medical equipment on board, including oxygen — since there are no points in between for an aircraft to divert to if there is an on board emergency. American Airlines said the correct aircraft, the A321-H, was just put into service on August 18th.
Norton said the new plane was part of the airline’s long-term strategy to upgrade service, and it replaced a Boeing 757 that flew that route up until last month.
“Somebody screwed up big-time, somewhere,” an American Airlines pilot, who is not authorized to speak on the record, told CNN.
The pilot explained that maintenance crews have to sign off on all extended operation certified equipment on any long-range aicrcraft and have a checklist of items that they have to go through and approve before a plane is certified to fly.
“All (extended operation) related equipment must be certified and be operational before a plane is cleared to fly. That means everything from oil quantities, to crew oxygen quantities, to retardants — they all have to be looked at,” he said. “All I can say is, thank God they didn’t have an emergency on that flight.”
For its part, American Airlines said once the mistake was identified they acted quickly.
“When we realized what happened, we immediately notified the FAA and began a thorough review of our procedures,” Norton said. “Already, we have revised our software to properly identify the correct aircraft are operating the correct routes.”
The return flight on that aircraft was canceled, and the plane was flown back to LAX with just a minimal crew on board.
“The A321-S flies over water regularly for many missions, but is not (extended operation certified), which is required by the FAA for American’s Hawaiian flights,” Norton said, adding that both planes are very similar otherwise, with the same engines and same range.
CNN has reached out to the FAA for comment, but has not heard back.