2005-04-08 / Front Page

FAA To American Airlines: Check Your Tails

Schumer Calls For Reopening Of NTSB Investigation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week ordered detailed inspections of the rudder sections of all Airbus 300-600’s and Airbus 310’s, aircraft flown on passenger routes in the United States by American Airlines, and on cargo routes by FedEx.

An Airbus A300-600, flying as American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into Belle Harbor on November 12, 2001 when its tail departed from the aircraft over Jamaica Bay shortly after the plane’s takeoff from John F. Kennedy Airport.

The FAA Airworthiness Directive, however, was not issued as a result of the crash of AA 587, but of a more recent “upset,” with an Airbus A310 that occurred on March 6. The Wave reported on developments in the story in our March 18 and March 25 editions.

The Airbus was about a half-hour out of Cuba when the rudder departed the tail structure, leaving the tailfin in place. The pilots managed to bring the crippled plane safely back to Cuba.

In the AA 587 crash, both the rudder and the tailfin departed the plane. The National Transportation Safety Board, in a ruling late last year, blamed that crash on Sten Molin, the first officer who was flying the departure that day. According to the NTSB report, Molin “unnecessarily and over-aggressively” used the plane’s rudder in a wake turbulence situation, causing the tail to be ripped from the plane.

Recent problems with the Airbus 300 Series Aircraft, however, have raised questions about that decision. The A310 is almost identical to the A300 that crashed in Rockaway.

On Tuesday, Senator Charles Schumer called on the NTSB to reopen its investigation into the Crash of American Airlines Flight 587.

“The safety and reliability of the airplane rudders [on Airbus airliners] has been called into question,” Schumer said in a press release. “The NTSB owes it to the families of the victims of the crash and the traveling public to find out whether traveling on these planes is dangerous.”

“The similarities between this and the Quebec flight, and other incidents involving A300 and A310 aircraft requires you to open your investigation,” Schumer told the NTSB in a letter.

“Everybody [in the aviation industry] is very interested in this,” Al Dickenson, who runs the aviation safety program at the University of Southern California told Newsday’s Sylvia Adcock.

John David, an American Airlines pilot who is a safety expert for the Allied Pilots Association, told The Wave for its March 18 edition, “We are watching the investigation very closely. It is unheard of to lose a major flight control surface like this.”

At the time, Ted Lopatkiewicz, a spokesperson for the NTSB, said, “[We] are closely monitoring the Canadian inquiry for a possible bearing on the New York crash. We need to know why the rudder separated from the aircraft before knowing if maintenance is the issue.”

According to published reports, American Airlines found two of its aircraft with “minor delaminations” of the tail, which is made up of composite material rather than the traditional aluminum.

The two planes were repaired at American Airline’s facility at JFK Airport and put back into service on the airline’s South and Central American routes.

Both the NTSB and the Safety Board of Canada are working with the U.S. Coast Guard to find the rudder somewhere in the Florida Strait.

In response to Schumer’s call for reopening the investigation, Lopatkiewicz told reporters, “We will evaluate all of the findings from [the Air Transat] investigation to determine if it has any relevance to our findings related to American Airlines Flight 587.”

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board, the equivilent of the NTSB, however, said late last month that its investigation into the upset of the Air Transat charter could take more than a year and more likely two, depending on whether the rudder can be found and inspected. In additon, an Airbus A330 landing in Japan last week had turbulence problems.

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