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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/19/09

Ground the Airbus?

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In December 2007, the European Aviation Safety Agency ordered frequent and extensive testing on the composite rudders of the Airbus A300/310 series due to safety concerns. Only about 20 wide-body A330 and A340 planes were included in the order, which did not include any of the A320 series. The tests had to be completed with six months, and certain airplanes had to be retested every 1,400 flights. [59]

The rudders of approximately 420 older Airbuses "are being subjected to repetitive ultrasonic and other enhanced inspections, the first time airlines and safety regulators have resorted to such recurring, high-tech procedures to determine the integrity of composite parts on airliners already in service" [60]

It is not known whether the inspection order applied to the A330 operated by Air France Flight 447 (see below), or if the aircraft was ever tested.

The order represents a vindication of the American Airlines pilots, who had called for such inspections five years earlier and for Dr. Williams, who had supported their efforts.

The order also represented a repudiation of Airbus’ maintenance standards that "simple visual inspections, combined with a mechanic’s manually tapping on the surface of the composite rudders, were adequate to detect any potentially hazardous internal flaws or structural weaknesses." [61]

November 18, 2008 - Aboard XL Airways (Air New Zealand) Flight 888T Over Mediterranean Sea Off the French Coast. Two German XL Airways pilots, accompanied by five representatives of Air New Zealand and a member of the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, were operating an A320 in a test flight.

The aircraft had been leased by Air New Zealand to XL Airways and had been serviced and repainted in preparation for a return to Air New Zealand service.

The aircraft disintegrated when it crashed into the water and its tail fin was found floating at the crash site. The flight recorders were recovered, along with several of the bodies.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation by French, German, New Zealand and U.S. regulators; however, the interim findings are that the "crew lost control of the aircraft. While conducting an incompletely-planned test of low-speed flight at low altitude, the aircraft was descending through 3,000 feet on full autopilot for a go-around. Landing gear was just extended when ... the speed dropped from 136 to 99 knots in 35 seconds." [62]

"The stall warning sounded four times during violent maneuvering to regain control.... the warning had silenced as the aircraft regained speed in a rapid descent, but six seconds later, at 263 knots, the aircraft had only 340 feet elevation and was 14 degrees nose down. A second later it was in the water." [63]

For now, it is not known if the floating plastic tail fin or its rudder may have been complicit in the crash.

Airbus has now delivered 3,893 A320s, which have now been involved in 10 fatal accidents, killing 565 people, and at least one famous nonfatal crash – that of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.

May 31, 2009 - Aboard Air France Flight 447 Over the Atlantic Ocean 400 Miles Off the Coast of Brazil

Two of three pilots aboard an Airbus A330 were monitoring the autopilot controls on a flight carrying 216 passengers from Rio de Janeiro as it cruised at 550 mph at an altitude of 35,000 feet. It was just before midnight and the captain may have been asleep in preparation to landing the plane in Paris the next morning.

The pilot reported that the plane was flying through a towering thunderstorm containing black, electrically charged clouds confirmed by satellite data to be charging upwards to 41,000 feet at 100 mph.

Due to the frequency of equatorial storms in the area, it is likely that the flight crew and Air France management were aware of the impending storm before it was encountered, and a decision was made to fly through the storm, rather than to turn back or to navigate around it.

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William John Cox authored the Policy Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Role of the Police in America for a National Advisory Commission during the Nixon administration. As a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 petitioning the Supreme Court to order a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical (more...)
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