Investigation Of JFK Runway Incursion Delayed As Pilots Reject Recorded Interviews

The National Transportation Safety Board said its investigation of the January 13th runway incursion at Kennedy International Airport has stalled because it has been unable to interview the American Airlines pilots who were involved.

In a preliminary report released late Friday afternoon, the agency said that it has tried to interview the pilots three times, but their union, the Allied Pilots Association, has declined its requests because the interviews would be recorded. As a result, the NTSB said it will subpoena the pilots.

“As a result of the flight crew’s repeated unwillingness to proceed with a recorded interview, subpoenas for their testimony have been issued,” NTSB said.

Three pilots were in the cockpit at the time American Flight 106 crossed an active runway where a Delta flight was about to depart. The Delta flight stopped suddenly, 1,400 feet from the American Boeing 777 that was bound for London Heathrow. Before the NTSB preliminary report, it was widely reported that the aircraft were 1,000 feet apart.

Responding to the NTSB report in a prepared statement, APA said that the recording of investigation interviews is a new and unwelcome technique.

“Historically, these interviews have been conducted in a manner in which notes were taken by the parties or a stenographic record was produced,” APA said. “Recently, however, board investigators have begun requiring that some witness interviews be both transcribed and electronically recorded in the name of producing a ‘more accurate record.’

“We join in the goal of creating an accurate record of all interviews conducted in the course of an investigation,” APA said. “However, we firmly believe the introduction of electronic recording devices into witness interviews is more likely to hinder the investigation process than it is to improve it.

“Not only may the recording of interviews lead to less candid responses from those witnesses who may choose to proceed under such requirements, but the existence and potential availability of interview recordings upon conclusion of an investigation will tend to lead many otherwise willing crew members to elect not to participate in interviews at all,” APA said.

While the pilots have declined the NTSB request for recorded interviews, they have communicated with the agency through their union, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said.

“It is a longstanding policy for investigators to record interviews, but only with the consent of the interviewee,” Knudson said.

“We routinely use recording devices,” he said. “These could be used to create interview summaries or transcripts and those go into the docket. This is nothing new.”

He said the audio versions are not released to the public.

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