I have some questions regarding the crash of Avianca Flight 52 on January 25, 1990 in the New York's JFK International Airport.
Why did the pilots fail to use the word 'emergency' and instead used the word 'priority' when they knew they were running low on fuel?
Why didn't they use their reserves to divert to Boston - their alternate airport?
What could have been done to prevent this accident? Who was to be blamed for this crash?
Out of Fuel - Avianca Flight 052
The crew of the Colombian flight was a little handicapped as they were not very fluent in English and did not use the proper phraseology to express their urgency when they were running short of fuel. Had they declared a "Low on Fuel" emergency, they probably would not have ended the way they did. This was one of the reasons why all pilots who fly internationally today must pass an English Proficiency Test prior to being issued with a flying license.
Normally the captain must make a decision to proceed to his alternate - Boston, before he reaches the "minimum diversion fuel" (MDF) state. If his fuel has gone below the MDF, then he was committed to land at JFK. Perhaps he was lulled into believing that he could land after holding for a while. In fact, the weather got worse and he could not see the runway after the second attempt. (See the full video here)
Earlier, because of bad weather, the controllers held the plane firstly for 20 minutes in the Norfolk area and then ordered it to circle for another 40 minutes more over New York. The jet aborted its first landing effort and was circling for a second attempt when it crashed. Had the captain declared a fuel emergency - this would have required the controllers to immediately wave off other aircraft and cleared him for an immediate landing.
According to the investigators, the probable cause of the crash was due to the failure of the flight crew to adequately monitor their fuel state in view of the deteriorating weather and their failure to communicate an emergency fuel situation to air traffic control before it ran out of fuel.