2002-02-02 / Front Page

Pilot’s Demand: Ground Airbus 'Aircraft Tail Problems Were Common Knowledge’

By Howard Schwach

Pilot's Demand: Ground Airbus
'Aircraft Tail Problems Were Common Knowledge'
By Howard Schwach

More than 70 pilots who fly for American Airlines have demanded that American's fleet of 34 Airbus 300's be grounded "until more extensive tests can be completed on their vertical stabilizers."

That demand came in the wake of the crash of American Airline's Flight 587, an Airbus 300, which crashed in the streets of Belle Harbor on November 12 and the recent grounding of three of the aircraft, each of which experienced control difficulties with the tail in flight.

"There have been too many problems with the composite material in the tail section to allow the planes to stay in the air without some further study," a spokesperson for the pilots said. "This could be an inherently dangerous problem."

At the same time, a former flight attendant for American Airlines who had been injured on another Airbus 300, told reporters that the Airlines has know about the problem for years.

"It was common knowledge among the air stewardesses that there was something wrong with those planes that would cause them to porpoise and to fishtail," Cosette Burke, was worked for American Airlines for nine years before her back was broken when an Airbus 300 hit turbulence during a flight from San Juan to New York City in July of 1991.

Burke eventually sued Airbus Industrie, the manufacturer of the aircraft. The suit was settled out of court.

In a related event, American Airlines has taken one of its Airbus 300's out of service after the pilot reported that the plane's rudder, located on the tail section, was "moving from side to side, causing the plane to fishtail."

Federal investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) admit that the incident might be related to the crash of Flight 587, which hit wake turbulence from another aircraft prior to breaking apart.

"We are investigating this," Ted Lopakiewicz, a spokesperson for the NTSB says. "We are reviewing statements from the pilots and information from the flight data recorder to see just what happened."

A recent NTSB update on the flight 587 reported, "the board has not ruled out either mechanical malfunction or structural defect as causing or contributing to the accident."

It adds, "although the flight data recorder showed significant rudder movement during the last moments of flight 587, it is not known what caused the movement – whether it was mechanically induced or pilot activated – or what role, if any, the movement planed in the separation of the vertical stabilizer."

Last week, the pilot of American Airlines flight 2139, an Airbus 300, was climbing from Miami Airport when he noticed a definite "tail-wag" on the plane. The pilot reportedly tried to fix the problem by using the autopilot, but the "rhythmic motion of the tail" continued. He took the plane back to Miami. Repairs were made to the plane and it was put back into service the next day. The next pilot, however, found the same problem with his flight and the plane was grounded.

American Airlines says that it is "routine" to take a plane out of service for inspection and repair.

"This is routine," an airline spokesperson told reporters. "None of our guys think that this has anything to do with flight 587. A part has been replaced and the plane will be given a test flight. If those tests prove out, it will be back in service."

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