Flight 31, which was bound from Los Angeles to Honolulu, had safely landed while carrying more than a hundred passengers on board. That day, Aug.31, seemed like a normal "flying" day for the aircraft except for the fact that the plane had mistakenly flown even though it didn't have an FAA-required certification.
The plane was identified as an Airbus A321 used by American Airlines. According to the airline company, the plane comes in two versions, the A321H and the A321S. The former can fly to Hawaii while the latter cannot.
The reason is simply because the A321H is ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) certified, a requirement issued by the FAA for two-engine planes that are flying long-range routes where emergency landing sites are not immediately reachable. The FAA strictly forbids planes that lack the said certification to fly on such routes.
Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines, said that the two planes involved in the mix-up are the same as far as specs are concerned.
"It has the same engine, same fuel tanks, same range," said Norton. However, the A321H, being ETOPS-certified, carries extra medical oxygen which is incomparable to the oxygen masks that would drop from the plane ceiling. Another key feature that marks its distinction from the other version is that it also carries additional fire-suppression canister.
The mix up was actually first reported in a blog post by Brian Sumers, a Los Angeles-based journalist and a commercial aviation expert.
"On Aug. 31, American flew Flight 31 from L.A. to Honolulu with A321S, spokesman Casey Norton said. This wasn't necessarily unsafe - both versions of the A321s are essentially the same aircraft and each has emergency life rafts required for a water evacuation - but this is a major violation of federal guidelines," wrote Sumers.
The wrong plane managed to complete its flight to Hawaii and was then flown back to L.A. with no passengers. Subsequently, the scheduled return flight on the plane was canceled.
American Airlines only started using the A321 planes on the LA-Honolulu route a few weeks ago prior to the incident. In the past, the company had used a Boeing aircraft to fly on the said route.
"The flight departed and landed safely without incident," said Norton. "When we realized what happened, we immediately called the FAA and notified them."
As a result of the mistake, American Airlines said that they have revised their software in order for them to "properly identify the correct aircraft are operating the correct routes."