2004-06-04 / Front Page

NTSB Wants Airbus To Redesign A300 Rudder Controls

Says Order Has Nothing To Do With AA 587Crash
By Howard Schwach

NTSB Wants Airbus To Redesign A300 Rudder Controls

Says Order Has Nothing To Do With AA 587Crash

By Howard Schwach

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) asking it to order Airbus Industries to modify its A300-600 model jet planes to limit rudder movements that could seriously damage the plane’s rudder.

That letter was spurred by a reinvestigation of an accident involving American Airlines Flight 903, an A300-600, near West Palm Beach, Florida in 1997.

After the crash of flight 587, the NTSB took a closer look at the aircraft that was designated as flight 903 and took it out of service. Eventually, its rudder was replaced. Flight 903 suffered an upset that caused the tail rudder to move rapidly back and forth to its in-flight limit. One crewmember was badly hurt in the accident, but the plane managed to stay in the air and to return to West Palm Airport.

While it was an A300-600 that lost its tail when it crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001, the NTSB says in its letter, "The safety board’s renewed interest in the data from Flight 903 resulted from preliminary findings in its investigation of the November 12, 2001 accident involving American Airlines Flight 587. The cause of that accident is still under investigation, but information to date indicates that the vertical stabilizer was subjected to large aerodynamic structural loading during the accident sequence. The flight 587 accident sequence did not involve a rapid increase in speed. The safety issues discussed in this letter were not a factor in the flight 587 accident."

In the flight 903 upset over Florida in 1993, experts say, the plane sped up so fast as it lost altitude that the limiter system could not keep up with the speed. According to the NTSB letter, the system could not keep up with changes faster than 2.4 knots per second, while the aircraft was accelerating at 10 knots per second.

The NTSB pointed out that the speed issue is what made the flight 903 upset different from flight 587.

"There were superficial similarities [in the two accidents], Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesman for the NTSB told The Wave this week. "The problems with the rudder limiting system seen in [flight] 903 did not occur in [flight] 587."

Airbus Industries made a statement that the company was "in agreement" with the recommendation adding, "the change will add another layer of safety [in our aircraft} for those rare times when there are rapid changes in speed due to an aircraft upset."

The Airbus spokesperson said that the incident that occurred with flight 903 "has to be separated" from what happened to flight 587. One of the major points made by Americans Airlines in its submission to the NTSB two months ago, however, was that there was just this problem with the A300-600’s rudder limiting system.

Lopatkiewicz said that the NTSB would make its final report in Washington, D.C. sometime this summer.

At our press time, Holly Baker, a spokesperson for the FAA Eastern Region said that she was still attempting to ascertain the agency’s response to the NTSB letter.


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