The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to launch a special review of Delta Air Lines, sources said yesterday, after a series of incidents in the last month that included a near-collision over the North Atlantic.
Delta pilots also have shut down a Boeing 767's engines on takeoff, landed in the wrong city, landed on the wrong runway and tried to take off into the path of an oncoming jet.
Canadian officials announced yesterday that the Delta L1011 that strayed 60 miles off course last Wednesday, nearly hitting a Continental Airlines 747 jetliner over the North Atlantic, strayed off course for a second time -- 90 minutes after it was guided back to its original flight path.
Christiane Beaulieu, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, said the Delta jet strayed off course for the second time when it was about 30 miles off the Canadian coast.
The jet, heading toward Cincinnati, passed within seven miles of a British Airways 747 flying to Toronto from London. Both jets were spotted on radar by a Canadian air traffic controller.
Canadian aviation rules require 10 miles of separation between planes approaching the coast. Jets crossing the Atlantic are assigned to parallel tracks 60 miles apart.
In the near-collision, the Delta and Continental jets passed so closely that the Continental pilots felt the vibration of the wind from the Delta jet passing underneath, sources said yesterday.
Beaulieu said the Canadian safety board has no plans to release tape recordings of cockpit conversations between the pilots of the Delta and Continental jets and pilots of American Airlines and Pan American jets who witnessed the near-collision.
The conversation was recorded by an Air Force jet in the area at the time and turned over to Canadian officials. Sources close to the investigation said last week that the Delta pilot suggested that the incident not be reported to authorities.
In a conversation among the four pilots, sources said yesterday, one unidentified pilot reportedly said: "No one knows about this but us, you idiot," after the Continental pilot said he was going to file a report.
A Delta spokesman said the flight crew has been suspended until the airline's own investigation is completed.
Jim Ewing, a Delta spokesman, said the airline has found no common thread among any of the incidents.
"During this period of time, we have flown more than 30,000 flight segments, using 368 airplanes to 153 cities," he said. "We have yet to have any significant aberrations other than these four or five here, and yet they stand out like beacons in a black night because they're connected with some sort of crew errors."
Delta's problems began June 18 in Nashville, when a Delta flight misinterpreted a takeoff clearance given to another plane at the opposite end of the runway. As the two planes headed toward each other, the Delta pilot saw the lights of the oncoming Southwest Airlines jet and aborted his takeoff, while the other jetliner took off over him.
On June 29, a Delta pilot inadvertently shut down both engines of his 767 while taking off from Los Angeles, while 125 passengers were warned to "get ready to crash." The engines were restarted and the plane flew to its destination in Cincinnati without further incident.
Seven days later, Delta Flight 699 from Dallas to Lexington, Ky., flew out of a thunderstorm and landed at a small municipal airport at Frankfort, mistaking it for its destination 20 miles away.
Sunday night, a Delta jet landed on the wrong runway at Logan International Airport in Boston, forcing another jet approaching the runway to stop.
Ewing said the pilot of the Los Angeles flight has been suspended, as well as both of the pilots involved in the accidental landing in Frankfort. He said the pilots involved in the Nashville and Boston incidents are still flying.