Whose Fault Is The Crash Of AA Flight 587, Anyway?
Whose Fault Is The Crash Of AA Flight 587, Anyway?
Commentary By Howard Schwach
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) won’t release its final report on the crash of American Air lines Flight 587, an Airbus A300-600 that spiraled into the streets of Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 until late this summer, but the finger pointing has already begun.
In an unusual public argument, Air bus and American Airlines are blaming each other for the crash.
American Airlines blames the crash on the faulty design of the Airbus In dustries aircraft, saying that the plane has a design fault that was well-known to the manufacturer long be fore AA 587 crashed.
Airbus, on the other hand, says that the plane has no design flaw, that it is the training given to American Air lines pilots that is flawed.
In briefs submitted to the NTSB last month as part of the final report proc ess, American accused Airbus of suppressing information about previous control problems involving the A300’s. Those incidents, the airlines said, indicated a design problem with the rudder and made the plane difficult to control during the climb-out period.
Airbus, in its submission, argued that American Airlines improperly train ed its pilots in the use of the rudder and had been warned prior to the crash that its training was faulty.
The rudder separated from the plane shortly after it departed Runway 31 Left at Kennedy Airport, heading over the peninsula to a Waypoint about 35 miles southeast of Rockaway.
Who is right? The NTSB will probably blame both American Airlines and Airbus for contributing to the crash, blaming it on the first officer, Sten Molin, who was flying the plane at the time.
The Allied Pilots Association, a party to the NTSB investigation, also submitted a brief. In the brief’s Executive Summary, the pilot’s association said, "Once airborne, a sequence of events rapidly occurred. The plane encountered one or more wake vortices trailing the B-747-400 aircraft. The Pilot Flying (PF) the airplane reacted judiciously to stabilize the attitude of the airplane in response to the vortices. Aero dynamic forces exceeded ultimate load on the tail fin within 6.5 seconds, causing the vertical stabilizer to separate from the aircraft. Twelve seconds later, the aircraft impacted the ground killing all onboard."
Although there seems to be agreement among all of the parties as to the fact that the tail departed the aircraft causing the accident, there is major disagreement as to why that happened.
There are some facts that the NTSB has and should look closely at before blaming the pilot for over-controlling the rudder when he encountered a wake turbulence event (although there are those experts who argue that there was no wake vortex problem).
The pilot’s submission goes on to say that "the discovery process uncovered ten prior in-service events concerning A300 aircraft... in all ten events, the vertical stabilizers of each Airbus aircraft were exposed to excessive aerodynamic loads."
In the summer of 1989, an A300 dep art ing from Aruba was climbing out of the airport when the pilot reported that the left rudder pedal was moving on its own volition, causing the plane to fishtail from one side to the other. The flight was aborted and nobody was harmed.
In May of 1997, American Airlines Flight 903 departing Boston encountered "radical movements" of the tail sec tion that nearly "snapped the tail fin off the plane," according to the pilot’s report. The plane went back to Boston and landed with only minor injuries to some passengers who had been tossed around by the plane’s erratic movement.
In May of 1999, an A300 departing BogotE1, Columbia, encountered "multiple rudder movements" that the pilot "could not control." The plane went back to the airport.
Two weeks after the crash of Flight 587, an A300 departing Lima, Peru, on the way to Puerto Rico encountered the same type of wild fishtailing on takeoff and had to be aborted.
And yet, when a group of American Airlines pilots who regularly fly the A330 asked that the aircraft be ground ed until more information could be gathered on the crash, they were told by Airbus, "There is no evidence that would cause us to think that there is a problem with the A300-600 aircraft."
American Airlines said in its brief to the NTSB, "This accident should never have happened and could have been prevented if Airbus had disclosed to Amer ican, the Federal Aviation Agen cy (FAA) or to the safety board what it knew about the propensity of the flight control system on the A300-600 to allow hazardous rudder control inputs that could cause structural damage."
Airbus, however, argued in its brief, "The pilot of Flight 587 inappropriately worked the controls, exactly as he was taught to do."
At stake in this argument is the potential of paying out millions of dollars to the families of those who died on the plane as well as those who died on the ground. Added to that is the property damage to a dozen homes when the plane hit Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue.
While technically, the NTSB report is not admissible in court, experts say that the report will probably play a part in deciding how the damages from the crash would be divvied up by the two airline giants.