American Airlines flew the wrong plane from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 31. Although nobody was injured in the incident, the passengers were at risk — as the plane was not properly certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards certification, also called ETOPS, applies to aircraft flying long-distance over large bodies of water.
As explained by aviation blogger Brian Sumers, ETOPS requires planes to “carry more safety equipment… including oxygen tanks and a special fire suppression system in the cargo hold.” ETOPS also ensures “aircraft are certified to fly on one engine for as long as three hours.”
Sumers said the certification process can be “complicated.” Therefore, American Airlines only sought ETOPS certification for one type of A321 aircraft, as it is routinely used for long-haul flights.
American Airlines currently flies two types of A321 aircraft. The airline’s A321H planes are ETOPS certified and are routinely flown from Los Angeles to Hawaii. However, their A321S planes do not carry the FAA certification.
As reported by Fox News, American Airlines realized they were flying the wrong plane shortly after takeoff. However, “it was too late to turn the flight around.”
After landing in Honolulu, the return flight was cancelled and the empty plane was returned to Los Angeles.
American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton confirmed the A321S and A321H both have “the same fuel tanks, same range.” However, the A321S is not equipped with the medical oxygen or fire suppression equipment required by the FAA.
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Norton said it is unclear how American Airlines flew the wrong plane to Hawaii. However, the incident is currently under investigation.
“When we noticed it, we immediately undertook an internal investigation, and we alerted the FAA… We are checking our internal procedures, everything that led up to the departure. We are going to figure out what we can do better. We have gone back and made some changes to software systems.”
Although the A321S is not ETOPS certified, Norton confirmed the plane and passengers arrived at the destination without incident. The spokesman said he is not aware of any similar incidents in the past.
American Airlines has not determined how the wrong plane was flown to Hawaii. However, Norton said the airline is taking steps to prevent any future mix-ups.