Figure: AVA052 Flight Reconstruction, from NTSB AAR-91/04, Figure 1.

Eddie Sez:

The NTSB Report blames the crew for failing to manage their fuel and failure to communicate their low fuel state with the specific word "emergency." The Federal Aviation Administration was cited for inadequate traffic flow management and a lack of "standardized understandable terminology for pilots and controllers for minimum and emergency fuel states." The crew was also cited for mishandling the first approach under windshear conditions.

There is much to cover here but I'll not cover the windshear issue. It is true that had they managed to land on the first approach the accident would never have happened. But there is much more to learn here about communications between aircraft and aircraft control. I do believe the pilots could have managed their situation better and should have declared an emergency using that specific word, "emergency." The first officer misunderstood the difference between "priority" and "emergency," English was not his first language. The captain wasn't paying close enough attention to communications between the first officer and ATC and accepted the first officer's assurances that an emergency had been declared.

So where does that leave us, as pilots? Flow control in this country is much better and air traffic controllers do seem to be in better tune with even the hint of an emergency status of their aircraft. But as pilots we can learn to communicate better too. See Abnormal Procedures / Declaring an Emergency for more about this.

What follows comes from the references with my comments in blue.

Accident Report


[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶1.1]

[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶1.5]

[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶1.6]

[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶1.17]


[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶2]

Probable Cause

[NTSB AAR-91/04, ¶3.2]

See Also:


NTSB Aircraft Accident Report, AAR-91/04, Avianca, The Airline of Columbia, Boeing 707-321B, HK-2016, Fuel Exhaustion, Cove Neck, New York, January 25, 1990