Nationwide Shutdown After Two Hawaii Flight Tail Strike Diversions

Nationwide Shutdown After Two Hawaii Flight Tail Strike Diversions

An incident that went largely unnoticed recently occurred when a software glitch resulted in runway tail strikes for two Alaska Airlines Hawaii flights just moments apart. It was severe enough that the airline implemented an immediate nationwide ground stop preventing all Alaska Airlines flights from taking off until the issue was evaluated and a resolution implemented.

Alaska Flight 887 departed Seattle on January 26, bound for Honolulu at 8:54 am and returned to Seattle at 9:45 am. Just minutes earlier than that, Alaska Flight 801 departed Seattle for Kona at 8:48 am and returned to Seattle at 9:26 am. That according to flight tracker Flightaware. One of the planes was a 737 MAX 9, while the other was a 737-900.

Upon takeoff, it was reported that both pilots and flight attendants heard a scraping sound or a bump caused by a tail strike. That’s when the tail of the aircraft strikes the ground. Tail strikes are unusual, and having two within minutes of each other led to great concern. Alaska’s Director of Operations pulled the plug on all flights at that point. We recall that Hawaiian Air suffered a tail strike in September 2021 on an A321neo. That incident occurred on landing from San Jose.

Once the cause was determined and the issue rectified, flights were allowed to continue normally. The ground stop only lasted a total of 22 minutes. Kudos to Alaska Airlines for how efficiently this was handled!

Minor tailstrikes may not be dangerous, but the plane may be weakened, and a thorough inspecttion and repair, if needed, is indicated, which can also prevent future issues with the same aircraft.

Technology reliance sometimes fails even airlines.Nationwide Shutdown After Two Hawaii Flight Tail Strike Diversions

We often think of two things (among many others) that the airlines are great at. One is marketing, and the other is technology. But technology can backfire on anyone and did remarkably in this situation.

Software used by the crew to determine critical takeoff weight sent incorrect data to these flights. It is believed that as many as 30 flights received incorrect weight data but that only these two Hawaii flights suffered tail strikes.

Alaska determined that the error was related to takeoff weight, which led to the software being held responsible. They immediately went to a backup scenario so that they could immediately resume flying while the software fault was being addressed.

That could be because planes bound for Hawaii tend to be heavier regarding passengers, fuel, and cargo. In this case, the weight discrepancy is reported to have been between 20,000 and 30,000 pounds.

While the problem was being repaired, Alaska told pilots to manually check and double-check the data entered into the flight computer. The software was repaired promptly the same day.

Too many close calls for Hawaii flights.

This incident comes in the midst of a rash of problems related to flights to Hawaii, among others. The FAA said this week that they would convene an airline safety summit next month in light of a vast number of incidents, too many of which narrowly escaped being fatal.

Just this week, we reported on the Honolulu airport runway issue in which a United Airlines flight at Honolulu entered a runway while another plane was landing. There was also the United Maui flight that narrowly missed hitting the Pacific Ocean in December. And, largely unrelated, there was the severe Hawaiian Airlines turbulence incident that impacted a wide-body flight on the very same day as the United loss of altitude. That resulted in dozens of injuries to passengers and crew.

The summit is set to address safety in an industry that has gone two and a half decades without a fatal crash. At the same time, issues related to staffing shortages and lack of experience both at the airlines and at the FAA have become well-known and are concerning.

Software in question.

The software from which the problem emanated is from DynamicSource, a Stockholm-based company whose products are widely used in the airline industry. The company says it allows “pilots to quickly enter the required inputs for a Takeoff or Landing calculation. By the click of a few buttons the application will present the key data to the pilots.” That data provides engine and speed calculation needed for takeoff, taking into count a number of factors.  Data from there is entered into the aircraft flight management computer system.

With such a significant planned vs. actual weight discrepancy, the planes would have taken off earlier, with less thrust and at a lower speed than was optimal. Alaska said that it determined, in conjunction with pilots, that the aircraft took off within approved safety limits despite the issues.

This incident was first reported in the Seattle Times.

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13 thoughts on “Nationwide Shutdown After Two Hawaii Flight Tail Strike Diversions”

  1. Tail strike and a non compliant repair was the cause of JAL123, the worst disaster in Japanese aviation history. So we should not be dismissive about them.

  2. Better to have this news than not! I’m glad the FAA is monitoring these issues b cause the Airlines don’t seem to want to share this Information!
    Another scenario of “ Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

    1. We were on flt 801 yesterday. Not sure if important, but notice passenger more carry on, one young woman had two back packs of heavy weight, taking space in overhead and Way from other passengers. No tail strike for us, flight was long but routine.

  3. This is terrifying for anyone who plans on flying. How do you know it isn’t manipulated by someone else who inputs information into the system on a regular basis? What should we do? I pray that God protects us all. But please find out quickly what is going on. Thank you!

  4. Aloha BoH:
    After reading your post concerning runway tail strikes on commercial airlines associated with Hawaii,I am interested in whether other airlines have documented this occurrence. The brief mentions Alaska, Hawaiian and United; has American, Delta or Southwestern ever experienced such occurrence.
    Thank you for the info,

    1. Dont need to pack lighter but that does help cramming into a convertible. The problem is calculating the weight accurately, not to much weight. Glad Alaska took care of it promptly since I only fly Alaska.

  5. Alaska airlines has always been very professional and caring. I am glad they figured out the problem rapidly and turned both jets back in order to keep their passengers safe. Unfortunately, it probably cause a lot of grief for their travelers. I would rather be alive and delayed then on time with a broken plane and dead! Thank you Alaska airlines! The right call was made!

  6. for that United Airlines flight a little more details on the type of aircraft involved and what was the aftermath resolution!! would be helpful information

  7. Aloha and mahalo for all of your Information. I think it was around the late 90’s, I was on an American Airlines 727, departing from Dallas Fort Worth Airport, when we had a tail strike. The take off angle was greater than usual and you could hear the metal scrape the runway. It could be felt as well (I was sitting in one of the last rows). Nothing was said and the flight continued to our destination. Freaked the hell out of me!!

  8. I believe you touched a very important point when you stressed the fact that the airline industry has gone over two and a half decades without a major fatal crash, because that means the mathematical odds of one happening are already playing catch up and are increasing by the day against us. All the more reason for everyone involved in this industry to step up their actions and performance to literally beat the odds, no pun intended. Thank you.

    1. Are there statistics that support you conclusion.

      I think there are 2 kinds of passengers, those who think the more time between incidents = a greater chance of an accident. And others, like myself don’t have a real opinion. I go back and forth.

      It’s more than interesting to note that SWA has never had a fatal accident. Ditto for Hawaiian.
      Source USA Today for SWA and for Hawaiian.

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