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TSA(ACS-90) 493-5091

June 27,2002

Mohamed Atta Incident at Miami International Airport (MIA) ..-;/'' *'


// Working-level
, / Employee
Background:

• On December 26, 2000, a Piper Cherokee (PA-28151), registration number N5 54HA, was
abandoned on the ramp leading to the taxiway at MIA due to a stalled engine that would not
restart. This is a small, single engine four-seater aircraft, typically used for private pilot and
instrument rating training. The pilot made a telephone call from the^ Fixed Based Operator
(FBO), Signature Aircraft, to Huffman Aviation (H32S).ahd advised that the aircraft was
inoperative. Huffman Aviation is a flight school based in Venice, Florida and was the
company that rented the aircraft to the pilot. The pilot and nils passenger then rented a car
and drove back to Venice. The aircraft was towed to Signature and later repaired.

• An article in the New York Times dated October 17,2001, reports that Mohamed Atta was
the pilot that abandoned aircraft. The .article also reports that a Federal Aviation Official
placed an angry call on December 27, 2000, to Huffman Aviation requesting the engine
records on the aircraft. Research indicates that ari inspector from the Miami FSDO-19 did
call Huffman Aviation and requested engine records for the aircraft. The Miami FSDO
inspector.1 Isaid that to characterize his call as an "angry call" was incorrect.
He simply called and requested the required records. The records were not sent due to the
company having the wrong fax number.,

• On October 29, 200 1 1 fof the Tampa FSDO responded to a request to do a


records check of this same Piper Cherokee (N554HA). He reported that the aircraft was
involved in a similar engine stoppage occurrence at the Venice, Florida airport on
June 12, 2001. When attempts were made to restart the engine, a fire started and the aircraft
sustained substantial damage.

Discussion:

• The MIA FSDO did not receive any official notification from Air Traffic at the time of the
incident. After the October 17, 2001, New York Times article appeared, FAA Southern
Region asked the MIA FSDO to look into the event. The FSDO contacted Huffinan
Aviation. What they learned is that the aircraft was not on a taxiway but on an apron/ramp
leading to a taxiway. In Huffman's opinion, the pilots had let the engine idle too long,
causing it to run rough. The pilots had then shut the engine down at that location and went to
an FBO to call Huffman. The pilots were told that Huffman personnel could not come to get
the airplane right away, so the pilots left in a rental car. Huffinan personnel later retrieved
the aircraft, changed the spark plugs, and returned it to service. At no time while it was
parked on the apron/ramp did the aircraft interfere with any movement on the airport.

Q
C
• FAA Flight Standards note: This type of incident occurs very frequently (probably daily) at
many airports and is not considered a significant event.

• The event described in the New York Times article and by the MIA FSDO does not meet the
definition of an accident in NTSB Part 830 (i.e., no damage, no injuries); therefore, no
immediate notification was necessary. Immediate notification to the NTSB is required for an
accident or the following incidents:

> Flight control system malfunction


> Incapacitation of flight crewmember
> Failure of structural components
> In-flight fire
> Mid-air collision
> Damage to property other than the aircraft
> For large, multi-engine aircraft
> In-flight failure of electrical systems
> In-flight failure of hydraulic systems
> Sustained loss of power in two or more engines
> Emergency evacuation
> An overdue aircraft believed to have been involved in an accident

• NTSB Part 830 defines an incident as, "...an occurrence other than an accident, associated
with the operation of an aircraft, which affects or could affect the safety of operations." For
an event to meet this definition, the Miami FSDO would have had to receive an official
notification from Air Traffic either by telephone call or by FAA Form 8020-9. No such
notification was made. If a FSDO were notified of an incident by receipt of a FAA
Form 8020-9, they would open an investigation.

• There is no NTSB record of an accident for that date for that location

• There is no accident/incident history in either Atta's or al-Shehhi's airmen records,


suggesting that the December 26,2000, event was not reported as an incident

• FAA Flight Standards notes:

> Pilots are trained that after an abnormal occurrence, i.e., engine failure or other engine
problem on the ground, they should exit the aircraft and remain clear in case of fire.
Pilots are also taught the definition of an accident, which requires immediate notification.
The pilot could determine that the incident did not qualify as an accident and then report
it only to the aircraft operator without being in violation of any regulations.

> However, pilots are also taught that while on an airport with an operating control tower,
they must communicate with the tower at all times. If an airplane has a problem on a
towered airport, and the airplane's radios are not working, the pilots should telephone the
tower.
iWorking-level
Employee

Both Atta and al-Shehhi, as certificated pilots, could operate into towered airports (i.is.,
no such restriction appears on their certificates), and the .aircraft must have .been equipped
for two-way radio communications. A flight school .or FBO can set restrictjbns on pilots
from operating aircraft into certain airports for any number- of reasons.. Softie busy j
airports can restrict student pilots from operating into their airspace, aiid they can request
that flight schools limit low-time pilots .from doing the same. .However,, if a pilot is j
appropriately certificated and current and the aircraft is properly equipped, the pilot pan
operate into an airport with an operating control tower after receiving,clearance front Air
Traffic Control. The airport could refuse any general aviation aircraft flying under visual
flight rules (VFR) on thet>asis of workload, but there would be/ho >vay for the controller
to determine a pilqt's flight experience and use that as a basis for exclusion. j

MIA FSDQ Inspector! Jsupervisor.l I advises that neither he nori


I Ifecall how they learned of the December 26,2QQQ, event or when [
requested the maintenance records on the aircraft. I tsueeests that there was a
possibility that I I was doing ramp .checks and saw the aircraft parked in an unusual
spot and asked about it. When he was told the situation, he might have contacted Huffman
Aviation and asked for the maintenance records.

• FAA Flight Standards note: There is a tremendous amount of general aviation traffic in
Florida, and inspectors there conduct ramp checks on hundreds of aircraft a year.
Accordingly, it would be very.difficult for a FSDO Inspector to remember a ramp check
months later on a specific aircraft, particularly one in which there was no accident or
violation involved.

• After the MIA FSDQ requested, but did not receive, the maintenance records on aircraft
N554HAJ Ifaelieves that he andl Iprobablv came to the conclusion that
personnel at Huffman simply incorrectly copied the FSDO's fax number. Since Huffman
Aviation's certificate is the responsibility of the Tampa rather than MIA FSDO and since
there was no accident or violation involved and no FAA Form 8020.9 from Air Traffic on the
event, there was no further follow up by the MIA FSDO.

• Flight Standards note: This approach by the MIA FSDO is not unusual. Workload
considerations prevent significant attention to what are essentially low-impact events. Every
day throughout the United States, a general aviation aircraft has trouble on an airport and is
parked and left for a flight school to collect. There was nothing about this event at the time
that would have crossed the threshold of concern by FAA inspectors.

Conclusion:

• The FAA has no independent verification that Atta and Al-Shehhi were the pilots for the
aircraft involved in the December 26,2000, event. The only information the FAA has is
from Huffman Aviation who, after September 11,2001, advised the MIA FSDO that they
recognized the names of Atta and Al-Shehhi as the two who had left this aircraft on the apron
in Miami.
• A check with the FAA Southern Region Communications Center in Atlanta revealed no
record of any notification to the Miami FSDO regarding the December 26,2000, event.
Moreover, the MIA FSDO has no record of an Incident/Occurrence notification. However, it
is true that the MIA FSDO did receive some type of notification of the event, but how they
were notified cannot be recalled.

• No record of this event was found in the Program Tracking and Reporting Subsystem (PTRS)
either by aircraft registration number or pilot name. A phone call to Bob Martin at Huffman
Aviation confirms that the maintenance records requested by MIA FSDO Inspector
I Iwere.never faxed to the MIA FSDO nor was any follow-up requested.

9/11
Working-level
Employee