America West Flight 2811 from Newark, New Jersey, an Airbus A320 (tail number N628NW), makes it’s final approach to Port Columbus Airport Tuesday afternoon, February 16, 1999 with it’s front nose gear turned 90° the wrong way. The nose gear which should have been turned along the center line of the plane was instead turned perpendicular to the direction of travel. Although Columbus Fire Department and many of the surrounding fire departments responded to the scene with squads, medics and engine companies, the plane landed safely, and its passengers evacuated the plane via it emergency slide chutes. No one was reported injured in the incident although the plane closed one of Port Columbus’s runway’s for several hours until FAA investigators could examine the plane.
[Photographed with Canon EOS D2000 cameras in RAW mode with L series lenses.]
The plane suffered minor damage during the landing at Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), Columbus, Ohio, with the nose wheels rotated 90 degrees. When the flight crew lowered the landing gear it received a (Landing Gear Control and Interface Unit) fault that after a visual fly-by resulted in nose wheels rotated 90 degrees from the straight direction foreseen for landing.
The pilot performed a normal touchdown which was followed by an emergency evacuation from the over-wing exits. None of the 31 people on board were injured.
The NTSB investigation revealed that “the external ‘O’ rings in the steering control valve had extruded and by-passed pressurized hydraulic fluid to rotate the nose wheels. This event had occurred before, and the manufacturer had issued a service bulletin. The operator had not complied with the service bulletin, nor were they required to comply with it.”
From the NTSB’s brief narrative statement of facts, conditions and circumstances pertinent to the accident/incident:
On February 16, 1999, at 1602 Eastern Standard Time, an Airbus A-320-231, N628AW, operated by America West Airlines as flight 2811, received minor damage when it landed at Port Columbus International Airport (CMH), Columbus, Ohio, with the nose wheels rotated 90 degrees. There were no injuries to the 2 certificated pilots, 3 flight attendants and 26 passengers. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the scheduled passenger flight which had departed from Newark (EWR), New Jersey, about 1404. Flight 2811 was operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan conducted under 14 CFR Part 121.
According to statements from the flight crew, flight 2811 was uneventful until the landing gear was lowered prior to landing at CMH. After the landing gear was extended to the down-and-locked position, the flight crew received indications of dual landing gear control and interface unit (LGCIU) faults.
The flight crew entered into a holding pattern and attempted to troubleshoot the faults; however, they were unable to determine the source of the problem. The flight crew then prepared for a landing at CMH, with nose-wheel steering and thrust reversers inoperative due to the faults. During the final approach, at the flight crew’s request, the control tower performed a visual check of the landing gear, which revealed that the nose-wheels were rotated about 90 degrees.
The flight crew then initiated a missed approach and declared an emergency. The cabin crew was notified of an impending emergency landing, and the cabin and passengers were prepared for the landing. The captain initiated the approach, and described the touchdown as soft. The airplane stopped on the 10,250-foot-long runway with about 2,500 feet of runway remaining. Damage was limited to the nose landing gear tires and rims.
The captain reported that after landing, he noticed smoke was drifting up on the right side of the airplane. He said he attempted to contact the control tower and confirm if a fire was present, but was unable due to frequency congestion. He then initiated an emergency evacuation using the left and right side over-wing exits.
A review of the air/ground communications, as recorded by the Columbus Air Traffic Control Tower, did not reveal a congested frequency when the emergency evacuation was initiated.
According to Airbus, nose wheel steering was hydraulically actuated through either the cockpit tiller and/or the rudder pedals.
A post-incident visual inspection of the nose landing gear assembly revealed no anomalies. The steering control module was replaced, and a subsequent functional check of the nose-wheel steering was successful.
The steering control module was a sealed unit, opened only during overhaul, with no specified overhaul time, and had accumulated 3,860 hours since last overhauled on March 3, 1998. It was shipped to Messier-Bugatti, the manufacturer, and examined under the supervision of the French Bureau Enquetes Accidents (BEA). The examination revealed that the external hydraulic O-ring seals on the steering control module’s selector valve were extruded (distorted out of the seal’s groove). A small offset was found in the steering control valve.
Airbus further reported that while the offset would have been measurable, it would not have been noticeable under normal operations. Additionally, during landing gear extension, the brake and steering control unit (BSCU) would have been energized and hydraulic pressure would have been directed toward the steering servo valve. The BSCU would have then commanded a small rotation of the nose wheel to check for proper movement. Any disagreement between the commanded position and actual position of the nose wheel would have deactivated the nose wheel steering. However, if hydraulic pressure had bypassed the steering control valve, there would have been continued pressurization to the servo valve, and because of the servo valve’s inherent offset, in-flight rotation of the nose wheels.
Procedures existed for removal of hydraulic pressure from the steering control module. However, once the nose-wheel strut had deflected 90 degrees, the centering cam would have been rotated to a flat area, and would have been incapable of overriding the 3,000 PSI hydraulic system, and returning the nose wheels to a centered position.
Documents from Airbus indicated there have been three similar incidents in which A320 airplanes landed with the nose wheels rotated about 90 degrees. Examination of the steering control modules on two of the airplanes revealed extrusion of the selector valve’s external seals similar to that found on N628AW. Airbus had attributed the extrusion failures to the lack of a backup seal or the effects of aging on the seals. As a result of these incidents, Airbus issued Service Bulletin (SB) A320-32-1197 on October 8, 1998, to recommend replacement of the external seals on the steering control module’s selector valve on A320 and A321 airplanes within 18 months of the SB’s issuance.
At the time of the incident, neither the French Direction General de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC), or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), had adopted the service bulletin as an airworthiness directive. The operator was not required to comply with the service bulletin, and had not complied with it.
On March 24, 1999, the DGAC issued Airworthiness Directive (AD) 1999-124-129(B) to require compliance with the SB. On December 17, 1999, the FAA issued AD 99-23-09 which was based upon the French AD, with a 12 month time of compliance for modification of the nose wheel steering control valve.
America West Airlines was a U.S. airline headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. Their main hub was at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, with a secondary hub at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. The airline became part of the US Airways Group after it acquired the larger airline in 2005 and adopted the US Airways brand name. America West was the second largest low-cost carrier in the U.S. after Southwest Airlines and served approximately 100 destinations in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Service to Europe was provided through codeshare partners. In March 2005, the airline operated a fleet of 132 aircraft, with a single maintenance base at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Regional jet and/or turboprop feeder flights were operated on a code sharing basis by Mesa Airlines and Chautauqua Airlines as America West Express.
Beginning in January 2006, all America West flights were branded as US Airways, along with most signage at airports and other printed material, though many flights were described as “operated by America West.” Apart from two heritage aircraft, the only remaining America West branding on aircraft can be found on some seat covers and bulkheads. The merged airline used America West’s “CACTUS” callsign and ICAO code “AWE”, but retained the US Airways name. As part of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways in February 2013, which led to American becoming the world’s largest airline, the call sign and ICAO code name was later retired on April 8, 2015 when the FAA granted a single operating certificate for both US Airways and American Airlines. The US Airways brand continued until October 17, 2015, when American Airlines retired the name.