2005-05-13 / Community

NTSB To Study Loss Of Air Transat Airbus Rudder

By Howard Schwach

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which previously said that it would wait for its Canadian equivalent to come to some conclusions prior to getting involved in the investigation into an incident in which a Canadian Airbus A310 flown by Air Transat lost its rudder over the Florida Straits, has now sent a team of American experts to Canada to work with its Transportation Safety Board (TSB) in studying the accident.

In an advisory released last week, a spokesperson for the agency said, “The NTSB has dispatched a team of investigators to participate in the readout of the aircraft’s flight recorders and the development of aircraft performance studies. We will participate in the examination of the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer and to work with the TSB’s chief investigator in developing the issues to be addressed in the investigation.”

The Airbus A310, which lost its rudder shortly after takeoff from Cuba, is substantially the same aircraft as the A300-600, which is the model that American Airlines was flying as Flight 587 when the plane lost its tail structure and crashed into the streets of Belle Harbor in November of 2001.Because only the rudder separated from the plane and not the entire tailfin, the crew of the A310 managed to get the aircraft back to Cuba safely.

The NTSB spokesperson, however, said that there are differences between AA 587 [and another, earlier A300 upset] and the more recent incident.

“Based on information released by the NTSB, [our] investigators have noted significant differences in the Air Transat accident and two previous accidents investigated by the NTSB that also involved structural damage to composite components on Airbus Aircraft,” Ted Lopatkiewicz, the agency’s spokesperson said in the advisory. “In both of those cases, significant rudder inputs by pilot played a major role in producing the aerodynamic loads on the vertical stabilizer. Preliminary indications from the Air Transat event data show that the pilots were not manipulating the rudder before the events leading up to the loss of the rudder.”

“Furthermore,” Lopatkiewicz added, “investigators note in the AA 903 accident the rudder remained attached to the vertical fin and no significant damage was found on the rudder after the event. In the case of the AA 587 accident, the data indicate that the rudder remained intact and attached to the vertical fin until the fin separated from the aircraft.”

Last year, the NTSB issued a final report that blamed the Belle Harbor crash on the first officer’s “overly-aggressive and unnecessary” use of the rudder, which ripped the tail from the plane.Congressman Charles Schumer, among others, has called for a reopening of the NTSB investigation into AA 587 in the wake of the recent events on Airbus aircraft. The NTSB has said, however, that it would not reopen the investigation until there was evidence of a problem with the aircraft.

“The NTSB will continue to participate and assist the TSB…and will continue to compare data from the earlier accidents to determine whether there are any similarities between all three events, beyond the fact that all three aircraft experienced damage to rear lugs of the vertical stabilizers,” Lopatkiewicz said.

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