2006-03-31 / Community

Flaw Found In Airbus Rudders: NTSB Orders Inspection Of AA 587 Aircraft

By Howard Schwach


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has ordered an "urgent" check on the rudders of all A 300-600 aircraft in the wake of the discovery that the material that holds the rudder to the aircraft may delaminate when corroded by hydraulic fluid. An A300-600, designated as American Airlines Flight 587 augured into Beach 131 Street and Newport Avenue on November 12, 2001, killing all 260 on the plane and five locals on the ground.

The rudders on those planes are made of composite plastic that appears prone to disintegrating, the NTSB said.

The flaw in the aircraft came to light last November, when a mechanic working on an Airbus A300-600 operated by Federal Express, found a "substantial area of disbonding between the inner skin of the composite rudder surface and the honeycomb core, which is located between two composite skins," the NTSB said in a prepared report. "Further examination of the disbonded area revealed traces of hydraulic fluid." That contamination can lead to progressive disbonding, which compromises the strength of the rudder, according to the report.

In the wake of the mechanic's discovery, Airbus Industries, the company that manufactures the aircraft, issued mandatory instructions ordering airlines to check the rudders of their A300-600 aircraft for "deterioration of composite surfaces."

Last Friday, March 24, the NTSB issued a safety recommendation that said, "Further tests on the damaged rudder revealed that a rapid propagation of the disbonding damage could occur during flight."

That agency asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make the Airbus order mandatory in the United States, an action that the agency has complied with.

The NTSB report included a discussion of other accidents involving the rudders of the A300 series aircraft, including the Air Transat upset last year, where a rudder fell from the tail while the plane was in flight, and American Airlines Flight 587.

Ted Lopatkiewick, a spokesperson for the NTSB told The Wave on Monday, however, "The problems involved in the agency's order show a different problem than what happened with American Airlines Flight 587."

He said that the failure of the tail in the Rockaway crash was due to high stress caused by the pilot, not by the delaminations of the rudder.

Robert Spragg, an attorney with Kreindler and Kreindler, who represents many of the victim's families, told The Wave that the new information will not have much of an effect on the remaining lawsuits against both Airbus Industries and American Airlines.

"This is just another black mark against Airbus' design and its utilization of composite materials in large, load-bearing structures such as rudders and wings," Spragg said. "This might, however, raise again the question that the NTSB dismissed in its hearing when it said that the composite material had nothing to do with the crash [of American Airlines Flight 587.]"

The NTSB's final report on the AA 587 crash ruled that Sten Molin, the first officer who was flying the departure from John F. Kennedy that day, "unnecessarily and over-aggressively" used the plane's rudder, which caused it to rip from the aircraft.

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