2002-03-16 / Front Page

FAA Orders Testing On Airbus Tails

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has ordered new, stricter tests on many of the 91 Airbus A300-600 models flown by U.S airlines because it recently found "signs of internal damage on one of the six points where the tail meets the fuselage" on an aircraft that had "been through severe turbulence five years ago."

Probers are looking at the likelihood of internal damage to the tail section as a cause of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in Belle Harbor in November of last year. The tail section of that plane fell off prior to the crash and was recovered from Jamaica Bay, at least a mile from the crash scene.

The new rule requires that U.S. airlines that fly the Airbus 300-600 model must now use ultrasonic scans on selected aircraft to check the composite material in the area where the tail joins the fuselage.

Investigators probing the November crash of flight 587 decided to remove the tail of another jet, also from American Airlines, after flight data indicated that it has been overstressed in a Miami flight. After inspecting the tail with an ultrasound device, the investigators found signs of internal damage on one of the connection points.

Pictures of the tail section taken after the 587 crash show that the separation of tail from fuselage took place in that area.

The tail from flight 587 is now undergoing CT scans, according to a source at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The ultrasound checks have been indicated for any plane that might have been stressed in flight, according to the NTSB. Some experts say that ultrasound is the only reliable way to detect damage in composite materials, although airlines more typically use visual inspections instead.

A group of American Airline pilots who fly the A300 recently urged the airline to ground the plane until ultrasound tests can be done on the tail. American is the only U.S. airline currently flying the Airbus model.

The airline, however, has been resistant to grounding the planes, which fly on its most profitable routes to Central and South America.

A spokesperson for Airbus Industries, the plane’s builders, told reporters, "the damage to the Airbus in question was within certifiable limits and was still safe to fly."

The spokesperson added, "the tail will be replaced only because it offers investigators a tool they are not going to find anywhere else."

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