A Safe Landing for Jet Blue

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Pilots joke that airline flying is hours of boredom interrupted by seconds of excitement during takeoff and landing. But they add, that's why they get paid so much—and train so extensively.

The emergency landing of JetBlue flight 292 at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday showed off that training. The landing gear on the Airbus A320 airplane got stuck on takeoff out of southern California headed for New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. As TV networks locked on to the stricken plane as it circled over Los Angeles and viewers stomachs knotted as they understood that they might be preparing to watch passengers fly to their deaths, the pilots discussed how to handle the problem with company headquarters in New York and technicians from the airplane's manufacturer in France.

Five-year-old JetBlue has built its reputation on low fares, sassy advertising and Live TV on board—a feature that scared some passengers who watched their unfolding drama on news channels—and is one of the few airlines that has remained profitable since 9/11. But more important than the bottom line to JetBlue has always been safety: the airline lists 'safety' as one of its first five core principles, has a sterling safety record and a rigorous training regimen for crew members. Chief Operating officer Dave Barger, the son of a United Airlines pilot, constantly reinforces that message whenever he speaks to employees. Several years ago the airline hired Steve Predmore, an experienced staffer at the National Transportation Safety Board, to be its head of safety.

That preparation came through during those several minutes of danger. After flying at a low altitude with the wing flaps (which are usually used to slow the plane on landing) deployed and the nose pitched up slightly higher than usual—all of which helped burn off unwanted fuel faster—the pilots executed a textbook emergency landing a Los Angeles. They brought the plane in as slow as possible, touched down in the center of the runway, and by holding the sidestick back kept the nosewheel from touching down until the last moment, and then applied the brakes to come to a safe stop. The incident also carried a reminder for passengers—flying is the safest its ever been in the U.S. but a large part of that depends on the steady hands of the men and women sitting way up front.