Experts: Design Flaws, Congestion Likely Part Of JFK Mishap

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Call it a hit and spin.

How did a jumbo jet collide with a commuter plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport?

Video shows the giant Air France A380 Airbus clipping the smaller plane, tossing it around like a toy, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Federal investigators are leaving no stone unturned as they probe the freak accident from Monday night. They’ll listen to the black boxes and the air traffic control tapes, and hear words people in the airline industry hope they never hear:

Pilot: “Commerce 563 just hit us.”

LISTEN: Raw Controller Audio of the Incident (via

That radio transmission from the pilot to the tower was the first alert to air traffic controllers that something terrible had happened on the tarmac at JFK — that the world’s largest passenger plane collided with a smaller commuter plane.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation, and the video, the 800-person capacity Air France mega plane was taxiing to its takeoff position when its left wing clipped the tail of a Comair 120-passenger CRJ 700 commuter plane that had just landed from Boston. The collision spun the smaller plane 90 degrees and heavily damaged both planes.

“This was not just two aircraft rubbing up against each other. This was a collision that had quite a bit of energy to it,” Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, told 1010 WINS.

The big question for investigators is how did the planes collide on the ground. An audio recording of conversations between the JFK controller responsible for coordinating the movement of planes on the tarmac and the two aircraft indicates the Comair plane was trying to exit the taxiway but may have stopped short because of congestion on the ramp — the area where planes park, Voss said.

“It was a dark and rainy night and I’ve been an air traffic controller in a busy facility and I’ve taxied as a pilot in those circumstances and all you really see is a sea of blinking lights it’s difficult to discern exactly where aircraft have stopped,” Voss said. “The combination of the congestion, possible distractions and the impediments to visibility probably all played a roll.”

Aviation expert Norman Cousins told Kramer there is a design flaw in the Airbus. The end of its wings turn up, creating a blind spot. The Airbus pilot couldn’t see the smaller plane, he said.

“Even if he opened the window on the pilot side and stuck his head out he couldn’t get sharp angel to see behind him,” Cousins said.

Other planes besides the A380 have similar upturned wings — or winglets — including the 727, 747, DC-11 and all the Airbus planes.

According to the NTSB there were 18 taxiway collisions nationwide involving 36 planes between 2005 and 2010. Cousins said the Federal Aviation Administration is partially to blame for not requiring cameras or fiber optics that allows pilots to see what’s behind their wings.

The FAA is participating in the investigation, but a full report may not be ready for months. Cousins said the combined damaged to the planes could near $1 million. The agency confirmed none of the 62 passengers or four crew aboard the Comair jet were hurt in the collision but said it was clear the incident needed to be investigated.

“There is a clear understanding between pilots and air traffic controllers on the things to look out for when operating on a congested airport and an accident of this severity on ground control is certainly unusual,” Voss said.

Does this change your opinion of flight safety? Are these superjumbo jets safe? Sound off in our comments section.

Comments (28)
  1. DAVID says:

    It all boils down to the two captains, ground controller and the truck driver!

  2. Harold Hartman says:

    Where exactly did CBS find this “expert”? I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t even been on the flight deck of the A380. While most large widebody aircraft have significant blind spots, the fact of the matter is that the A380 has tail cameras which would have displayed the position of the CRJ (perhaps crew was not monitoring them, but they are there). To claim that the A380 has a blind spot related design flaw is utter incompetence. I’ll be happy to go on record with my prediction that the NTSB won’t find the A380 flawed when the final reports are issued.

    Oh and the devices on the wingtip on the A380 are called wing fences. Winglets are on the A340 family. Good job Mr. Cousins.

    Lastly, take another look at that video. There’s no way the CRJ was spun 90 degrees, 60-70 at best from the camera angle provided. Definitely not 90 degrees.

    1. Garth says:

      Great another aviation expert or pilot wannabe. God help those who have nothing else to do but over analyze and criticize a news story…

  3. Paul says:

    No such aircraft as the ” DC – 11 ” !!!!!!!!!! It is incredible how the media report on aviation……. incredible !

    1. raul says:

      probably he means “MD-11”

      1. Paul says:

        Oh, I know what the “expert” meant !

  4. Casual Encounter says:

    I think the pilot and the cute blonde flight attendant were making out…

  5. sandbaganista says:

    This web site has a tradition of writing ill-fitting or nonsensical link headlines on the homepage, but this one takes the cake.

    1. INJUN93 says:

      OH EXCUSE US !

    2. INJUN93 says:


  6. Garth says:

    There is absolutely no need for a monster the size of the A380. The 747-8 soon to be released, can fit nicely into any airport, requires no runway or taxi way modifications at all. If the airlines like Air France and others are insistant on operating this monster, let them find a place to safely land and operate it in the U.S. or participate in the costs of modifying the airport. I think the Mojave desert can accomodate this beast very nicely without us incurring any expense at all.

  7. Doug Onesko says:

    There isn’t a 727 in the world with upswept winglets.

  8. INJUN93 says:


  9. Soap says:

    What is a “sharp angel” ? No wonder theres no jobs.

  10. chuck says:

    Why no report on what happened to the passengers on the small plane? Lousy reporting here.

    1. Cheryl says:

      it does, it says 62 passengers and 4 crew were on board the Comair jet

  11. JD says:

    There are usually several causal factors in aviation accidents, and I believe this will be the case here. However the A380’s captain will certainly be faulted for “Failing to adequately clear” or look outside. Regardless of what the ground controller cleared the A380 or the RJ to do, it is still the Pilot in command’s responsibility to see and avoid objects/other aircraft…

  12. George Lurye says:

    This is a result of Airbus vs. Boeing politics. When the 380 was designed it was clear that airports would have to alter their taxiways, ramps and gates to accommodate the new jet. Current facilities were designed for the 747, but nothing larger. Airports rushed to make basic alterations, but the truth is, major reconstruction would need to be made for totally safe operations and it just wasn’t done. Airbus won’t pay for it and airports don’t have the money/ability to do it on their own. Taxiways need to be far enough apart so that at all stages, two A380s could maneuver side to side with safe distances between them. It just cannot be done. The 380 is too big to operate in current infrastructures.

  13. shiftynj says:

    I saw NBC’s video, the A380 was moving at a good clip when they touched.

  14. Joy says:

    A380 is one the best plane to travel long distance
    I travelled few times to Dubai
    This just a fender bender
    Don’t worry people

  15. Andy says:

    I flew on an Qantas A380 from LAX to Melbourne last year. Anytime the jet was taxiing or moving around the tarmac at LAX, we had 2 airport police cars moving with us and they were positioned just off the wingtips. This prevented any other airport vehicles or planes from getting near it and they were a additional eyes keeping the plane safe. Maybe JFK should implement the same procedures.

  16. winston says:

    what is safe?

  17. karlson says:

    These new planes are the largest ever and the airports have to get out there and measure new taxi lanes that are wide enough to accommodate their increased girth. Had that been attended to, this wing clip incident might not have occurred.

    There is less and less room as there is more and more air traffic and the airport taxiways and runways are overbooked.

  18. Dan Te says:

    Were the pilots and co-pilots talking on their cell phones or texting?

    1. Junior says:

      Um, NO!

    2. Pal says:

      Pilots were texting while taxiing.

  19. drchuck1 says:

    miscommunication caused this, lucky it didn’t happen at a high speed or in the air

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