ALPA Presents Captain Edward Bird with Superior Airmanship Award

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Hebron, Ky., Pilot Recognized for Safely Overcoming Tire Failure and Gear Malfunction during Takeoff

WASHINGTON—The Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA) will recognize Delta Air Lines Capt. Edward Bird for his superior leadership and teamwork in successfully handling a potentially catastrophic flight emergency during takeoff from Madrid, Spain, last December. He will receive the Superior Airmanship Award at ALPA’s 60th Air Safety Forum, to be held August 4–7 in Washington, D.C.

Providing the highest level of safety for our passengers is our first priority as professional Delta and ALPA pilots,” said Capt. Michael Donatelli, chairman of the Delta Air Lines pilot group’s Master Executive Council (MEC). “Capt. Edward Bird has demonstrated superior airmanship in commanding a tremendous team effort to react appropriately and successfully in a time-critical emergency. The Delta MEC recognizes and thanks him for his commitment to the safety of our passengers.”

On the morning of Dec. 5, 2013, Delta Air Lines Flight 415, Boeing 767 service from Madrid to New York, suffered a violent main landing gear tire blowout during takeoff. The flight crew heard a loud bang as the tire exploded, followed by continuous loud noise and heavy vibration throughout the airplane. The vibration was severe enough to cause several passenger oxygen masks and ceiling panels to drop in the cabin. On board the aircraft were 200 passengers, eight flight attendants, and three pilots.

Because the airplane had just reached flying speed, Capt. Bird directed F/O Kenneth Wasson, who was flying the airplane, to continue the takeoff, rather than try to stop on the remaining runway. As the heavy widebody aircraft climbed away from the runway, the pilots tried unsuccessfully to raise the landing gear. Cockpit warning lights showed that the tire explosion—which blew a hole through the right wing—had ruptured lines in two of the airplane’s three hydraulic systems through which the pilots operate the flight controls, wheel brakes, nosewheel steering, and other aircraft systems.

Capt. Bird declared an emergency to Madrid air traffic control. Then he and F/O Wright who was acting as the relief pilot for the long international flight, ran the procedures checklist for the dual hydraulic system failure.

After completing the emergency checklist, Capt. Bird directed F/O Wright to communicate with the flight attendants, with Delta’s Madrid Station Operations, and with the passengers. Concurrently, Capt. Bird informed Delta’s dispatch office of the emergency, and began to help F/O Wasson prepare for an overweight landing back at Madrid. They would have to land with no reverse thrust available on the right engine, and wheel braking limited by the pre-charge on the emergency braking system.

F/O Wasson’s approach and landing were uneventful, though at a higher-than-normal speed because of the airplane’s weight. Using full manual braking and full left thrust reverse, the pilots decelerated the overweight B-767 until reaching the last taxiway, where the brakes finally ran out of hydraulic pressure. With no brakes and no steering, the airplane veered to the left and stopped just off a taxiway.

Though the airplane required extensive repairs, none of the passengers or crew members were injured.

“Capt. Bird relied upon his thorough training and his considerable experience as a professional airline pilot to deal with a serious situation in superb fashion,” said ALPA president Capt. Lee Moak. “Under his direct pilot-in-command leadership, all three members of the flight crew managed their cockpit duties flawlessly, widened the team, and coordinated with air traffic control, maintenance, and dispatch perfectly. The pilots executed multiple procedures in a short period of time in preparation for landing, and managed the after-landing procedures and evacuation of the aircraft in a highly professional manner.”

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union, representing more than 51,000 pilots at 31 airlines in the United States and Canada. Visit the ALPA website at or follow us on Twitter .

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