Back in 2019, a Delta 757 suffered a very hard landing at Ponta Delgada in the Azores. The impact was such that the skin of the aircraft was visibly crumpled, indicating serious and expensive-to-repair damage. Despite the aircraft being 23 years old at the time of the incident, Delta took the decision to repair the old 757, and it continues to fly today.
Most frequent fliers will have experienced a hard landing once or twice in their lives. The majority of the time, it’s nothing to worry about and has no serious consequences. But for one Delta Air Lines aircraft, a hard landing ended up almost being catastrophic.
Delta’s Boeing 757-200, registered N543US, was flying from New York JFK to Ponta Delgada in Portugal in August 2019. Flight number DL-414 touched down on runway 12 at 08:42, but suffered a very hard landing. The aircraft rolled out safely and taxied to the gate, with no passengers injured. The aircraft, unfortunately, was seriously damaged.
— Aeronews (@AeronewsGlobal) August 18, 2019
N543US was creased in several places on the fuselage, with areas deformed from the stress of the impact. Several skin stringers showed signs of damage, with cracks apparent on visual inspection. The aircraft remained in Portugal, while a replacement 757 was flown out from the US to undertake the return leg of the flight.
Investigators, including the Portuguese aviation accident team (Gabinete de Prevenção e Investigação de Acidentes com Aeronaves – GPIAAF), concluded that the accident was the result of an excessive nose down movement at the point of touchdown. This could have been a result of a crosswind. However, there were other factors at play here too.
The crew of the 757 had prepared to conduct an ILS approach to runway 30 but were unexpectedly given an RNAV approach on runway 12. The investigators further determined that the excessive pitch down could have been pilot error. It was noted that the first officer conducted the approach and landing, with the pilot in command only taking over after the hard landing.
pushing the column forward to derotate can easily cause damage.https://t.co/n3p7avtxDi
— Peter Lemme (@Satcom_Guru) May 4, 2020
The final contributing factor was the aircraft flying very close to its maximum landing weight. The airplane landed at 196,000 lb and has a maximum landing weight of 198,000 lb, which is considered to have contributed to the damaged caused to the airframe.
Back in the skies
You might expect a 23-year-old Boeing 757 suffering serious damage such as this would be reason enough for the airline to call it a day. But Delta is well known for keeping its aircraft longer than most, and clearly thought that this 757 was still worth more as an operational aircraft than it was as scrap, even with the costly repairs taken into account.
Massively proud of our @delta engineers, mechanics, materials, quality, flight ops, safety folks and all the other teams who made this happen. One of our birds is in the air after a prolonged stay in the Azores. #deltaproud #keepclimbing #avgeek pic.twitter.com/gxsiwZ9qtS
— Michael Rennick 🇺🇸 End Racism (@Michaelrennick) September 16, 2019
The plane was fixed up in just under a month, and was in the skies heading back to the States on September 16th, 2019. Although the aircraft was temporarily grounded in the early part of the COVID pandemic, it has been up and busy again in recent months.
According to data from RadarBox.com, even during the recent difficult period for aviation, N543US has been hard at work. Over the last 12 months, it has averaged more than 78 flights per month, clocking up monthly average flight time of 310 hours. Most recently, she flew in from Minneapolis to Los Angeles on September 13th, and will undoubtedly be off on her next adventure soon.