How JetBlue passengers watched their own flight circle on live TV during a mechanical incident

  • JetBlue Airways Airbus A321-200

    IATA/ICAO code:

    Boston Logan International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, New York JFK Airport, Orlando International Airport

    Year of foundation:

    Robin Hayes

    United States

On September 21, 2005, JetBlue Flight 292 took off from Hollywood Burbank Airport (BUR) in California for a transcontinental flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York City. The plane, a three-year-old Airbus A320-232 registered N536JB, was carrying 140 passengers and six crew for the 2,465-mile flight to the east coast.

Route of JetBlue Flight 292. Image: GCmaps

The pilots were unable to retract the nose gear

Just after taking off from Burbank Airport at 3:17 p.m., the pilots realized they could not retract the nose wheel landing gear. They immediately decided to make a low pass over the JetBlue hub at Long Beach Municipal Airport (LGB) to allow tower officials to report what they could see. People viewing the aircraft from the ground could see that the nose wheel had rotated 90 degrees to the left.


LAX is only 18 miles from BUR. Image: GCmaps

Rather than attempt to land at Long Beach Airport, the captain decided to divert to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). As Southern California’s main international airport, LAX had longer and wider runways and more modern security equipment than other nearby airports.

Airbus A320 cannot dump fuel

Because the plane was loaded with fuel for the cross-country flight, the pilots flew in a figure-eight pattern between BUR and LAX to burn off fuel before attempting to land. By doing so, they reduced the load on the landing gear and reduced the risk of the plane catching fire. They had to stay airborne and burn fuel because the Airbus A320 family cannot dump fuel.

Because JetBlue equips its planes with satellite television, all passengers on board watched live as the plane flew over the Pacific Ocean. As the plane prepared to make an emergency landing, emergency services and firefighters were on the ramp ready to go.

When the plane landed on runway 25L at LAX, the nose gear generated sparks and flames. To prevent it from collapsing, the pilots did not apply reverse thrust to slow the aircraft. The result was that it took the aircraft much longer to stop at 1,000 feet before exiting the runway. As runway 25L is 11,096 feet long, the aircraft landed safely. If they had tried to land at Long Beach Airport (LGB), they would have missed a runway because LGB’s longest runway is 10,000 feet.

Speaking of landing, Wikipedia Seattle Times archived sources quote Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli as saying:

“The pilot did an outstanding job. He kept the plane on its rear tires for as long as he could before lowering the nose gear.”

Not all passengers were injured in the emergency landing. Photo: Getty Images

The plane having come to a stop with its landing gear still intact, it was decided not to evacuate the plane using slides but by an airport stair vehicle. Since JetBlue was not operating from LAX, the aircraft was towed to a Continental hangar for evaluation. After the hysteria subsided, experts said there was never any real danger to passengers as the plane was designed to tolerate certain failures and could land without its nose gear.

Media later reported that there were seven other incidents where the nose gear wheels were locked out of position. Airbus denied it was a design flaw and blamed the problem on poor maintenance practices. Airbus had previously issued maintenance advisories to A320 owners, which were then mandated by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC).

The NTSB said worn seals were to blame

In its report on the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said worn seals were to blame and the brake system control unit (BSCU) system contributed to the problem. Following the NTSB report, Airbus upgraded the aircraft and resolved the issue.

The aircraft involved in the incident has been repaired and returned to service. JetBlue has however changed the flight number for BUR flights to JFK from 292 to 358 and 359 in the opposite direction.

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