A320, en-route, southeast of Omaha USA, 2022

A320, en-route, southeast of Omaha USA, 2022

Summary

On 19 November 2022 an Airbus A320 was descending below 13,000 feet towards its destination Omaha clear of cloud at night and at 290 knots when an explosive decompression occurred as a result of bird strike damage. An emergency was declared and once on the ground, three locations where the fuselage skin had been broken open were discovered. The structural damage was assessed as substantial and the aircraft was withdrawn from service for major repairs. The birds involved were identified by DNA analysis as migrating Snow or Ross’s Geese, the former of which can weigh up to 2.6kg.

Event Details
When
19/11/2022
Event Type
BS, LOC
Day/Night
Night
Flight Conditions
VMC
Flight Details
Operator
Type of Flight
Public Transport (Passenger)
Intended Destination
Take-off Commenced
Yes
Flight Airborne
Yes
Flight Completed
Yes
Phase of Flight
Descent
Location
General
Tag(s)
Copilot less than 500 hours on Type, PIC aged 60 or over
BS
Tag(s)
Large Birds, Significant Airframe Damage
LOC
Tag(s)
Airframe Structural Failure, Significant Systems or Systems Control Failure, Bird or Animal Strike
EPR
Tag(s)
“Emergency” declaration
Outcome
Damage or injury
Yes
Aircraft damage
Major
Non-aircraft damage
No
Non-occupant Casualties
No
Off Airport Landing
No
Ditching
No
Safety Recommendation(s)
Group(s)
None Made
Investigation Type
Type
Independent

Description

On 19 November 2022 an Airbus A320 (N330NW) being operated by Delta Airlines on a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Atlanta to Omaha as DL2295 was descending through 13,000 feet when it struck several large birds and a sudden depressurisation occurred. An emergency was declared and the flight was completed to the intended destination without further event with an external inspection of the aircraft being made after completing the landing before taxiing to the gate. The safety of the flight was not compromised but substantial structural damage was caused to the airframe. 

Investigation

An Accident Investigation was carried out by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The 60 year-old Captain had a total of 16,335 hours flying experience of which 1,779 hours were on type and the 37 year-old First Officer who was acting as PF had a total of 660 hours flying experience of which 316 hours were on type.

What Happened

As per the pilots’ statements, as the aircraft passed approximately 13,000 feet, the First Officer had routinely begun to slow the aircraft from 310 KIAS to 250 KIAS. At approximately 290 KIAS there was what sounded like a large explosion above the First Officer’s head. The flight door blew open and a panel blew down from the flight deck aft overhead panel area - it was apparent that a rapid decompression had occurred. The SCCM immediately shut the flight deck door but the wind noise was initially extreme and made communication difficult and the First Officer experienced “ice cold air pouring into the flight deck from panels above his head”. The descent was continued and once the aircraft reached 9,500 feet, the cabin and outside altitudes were roughly the same. An emergency was then declared to ATC and the flight was cleared to join the ILS approach to runway 32L. The First Officer continued as PF whilst the Captain reviewed related ECAM messages but these did not require any action and all engine and system indications were normal. The Captain spoke with the SCCM and then made a PA advising passengers that there was a pressurisation problem but the flight would be continuing to a normal approach and landing apart from stopping on the runway to allow an external inspection to take place.   

Having stopped on the runway after landing, the airport RFFS inspected the aircraft and advised two bird strike locations, one below the left side windscreen and another on the lower front right hand side. The aircraft was then taxied to the gate. After shutdown and passenger disembarkation, the crew observed a third strike damage location from the air bridge on the right hand side and near the top of the fuselage. It was immediately obvious that all three strikes had penetrated the aircraft skin.

A320-enroute-SE-of-Omaha-2022-holes

Holes made by two of the strikes on the right hand side. [Reproduced from the Official Report]

A320-enroute-SE-of-Omaha-2022-dmg-above-flightdeck

An enlarged view of damage to the upper right hand side just above the flight deck. [Reproduced from the Official Report Docket]

A320-enroute-SE-of-Omaha-2022-left-side-BS

The left side strike. [Reproduced from the Official Report Docket]

A detailed examination of the damage at all three locations found that the airframe damage was “substantial” and involved the stringers and frames at all three locations with the size of the skin punctures in total exceeding the size of the pressurisation outflow valve. This damage was assessed to have “adversely affected the structural strength and pressurisation performance and required a major repair”.

Bird remains were retrieved from the damage locations and sent to the Smithsonian Institution’s Laboratory for DNA testing. The bird species involved were identified as either Snow Geese or Ross’ Geese, these two species not being distinguishable from each other by the testing. According to the FAA, there were no other pilot reports of bird activity in the area on the day of the accident.

The Probable Cause was formally recorded as “multiple bird strikes during descent”.

The Final Report was published on 16 October 2023.

Editor's Note: Reference to the Investigation ‘Docket’, to which a link is provided at the end of the Final Report, was made to obtain ancillary information and two illustrations which were not presented in the published Report. 

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