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Airbus Grounding Article

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Airbus Grounding Article

Old 25th Jan 2002, 06:18
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Post Airbus Grounding Article

My first posting of this type, please excuse me if anyone thinks it out of line.

I picked this up off the Miami Herald website.

. .Published Thursday, January 24, 2002

. .Grounding of Airbus fleet urged. .BY INA PAIVA CORDLE . [email protected]

Ten weeks after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, more than 60 American pilots who fly the Airbus A300 have signed a letter recommending that the carrier ground its A300 fleet.

Unsure of the safety of the aircraft, the pilots say the A300 should not be flown until investigators determine a cause of the crash or develop a reliable way to test the structural integrity of the planes' vertical stabilizers. The tails are made of thin layers of carbon composite fibers.

"Everybody is concerned because nobody really knows why 587 crashed and if it's a problem with composite materials,'' said a pilot who was one of the original 12 signatories to the letter, but asked that his name not be printed. "The scientific opinion is that there is no reliable way of examining composite materials.''

American flies the A300 from Miami to New York, Boston, Latin America and the Caribbean, and from New York and Boston to the Caribbean. On many of the routes it flies from Miami, it has no competition from U.S. carriers.

American defended the safety of its 34 A300s, emphasizing that neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the National Transportation Safety Board has suggested any reason to ground the fleet.

In a statement, American called the pilots who signed the petition "well intentioned,'' but said they "lack the scope of information necessary to reach a fully informed conclusion about the Airbus and the progress of the NTSB's investigation.''


The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American's 11,500 pilots, is not involved in the letter campaign and has not recommended that the fleet be grounded.

"Clearly we are concerned,'' APA spokesman Gregg Overman said. "I think it's fair to say we're in a wait-and-see mode at this time.''

Flight 587, bound for the Dominican Republic, crashed Nov. 12, three minutes after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. All 260 passengers and crew aboard the A300 and five people on the ground were killed.

The NTSB has not yet determined a cause for the crash of Flight 587, but the investigation is focusing on the tail section of the A300.

Safety experts believe that undetected damage, hidden within the layered composite material of the tail, likely led the plane's vertical stabilizer to break off -- after two jolts of wake turbulence from a Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 hit the plane. The flight data recorder also showed significant rudder movement, but the cause of those movements has not been determined.

On Jan. 15, the NTSB said it had discovered "some delamination'' -- separation of layers inside the composite material -- in the crashed plane's detached tail, but said it had not yet concluded whether the damage existed before the crash. The NTSB said it was surveying salvage yards for an undamaged A300 vertical stabilizer and rudder to aid in its evaluation.

Meanwhile, the FAA and NTSB confirmed Wednesday that they are reviewing an incident Jan. 17 involving an American A300 that returned to Caracas after takeoff en route to Miami after the pilot reported uncommanded rudder movement. The plane is now at American's maintenance facility in Tulsa, Okla., where it is being examined.

Another A300, en route from Lima to Miami on Nov. 28, returned to Lima after the pilot reported "fishtailing.''

Following the crash of Flight 587, the FAA ordered carriers to visually inspect tail fins, rudders and fittings on all Airbus A300-600 and A310 planes. American said the inspections did not reveal any problems. But aviation experts say that level of scrutiny might not detect flaws deep inside the composite material.

And some experts disagree whether even an ultrasound evaluation can reliably penetrate all the layers.

"Should any unsafe condition be discovered during the rest of the [crash] investigation, the FAA would not hesitate to take necessary safety actions,'' FAA spokesman Christopher White said.


American is the only U.S. passenger carrier to fly the A300, although several foreign carriers fly the plane, including Air France, Lufthansa, Alitalia and Thai Airways. Several other models of the Airbus, including the A320, share the same tail design, composite and construction features as the A300. Airbus has consistently backed the safety of its aircraft.

To try to assuage pilots' concerns regarding the A300, American took about 12 pilots to Tulsa two weeks ago to view a disassembled Airbus A300 tail. The group included union officials from Miami, Boston and New York, and Los Angeles members of the union's safety committee.

Robert Sproc, vice chairman of the Miami base, said the tour only heightened his concerns.

"Whether or not the investigation shows that composite failure was a significant cause in the accident of 587 is going to be a side issue to the fact that pilots are beginning to realize that these composite materials have no conclusive field testing procedure,'' Sproc said. "They don't feel comfortable with the industry accepting visual inspections as being adequate.''

. .`50-50'

The grass-roots letter circulated among American's 413 Airbus captains and first officers -- including 145 based in Miami -- underscores those concerns. It refers to meetings in Boston, Miami and New York with A300 pilots, where it quoted American fleet managers as saying they are "50-50'' on whether or not the fleet should be grounded.

American said that statement is incorrect and that the airline's fleet managers support the aircraft.

A second group of more than 30 pilots, including the 12 original signatories to the letter, was on its way to Tulsa on Wednesday, at American's invitation, to tour the facility today.

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