2006-05-19 / Community

NTSB Points 'Distinct Differences' To AA 587 in Aircraft Upsets

By Howard Schwach


Responding to a letter asking the agency to reopen the investigation into the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into Belle Harbor in November of 2001 in light of a number of new incidents with the same type aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board recently wrote to Congressman Anthony Weiner that "the data provides that there are very distinct differences between the flight 587 accident and [the two other] events and that a new or reopened investigation was not warranted."

Weiner wrote to the NTSB on April 18, requesting the reopening of the investigation in light of Canadian Air Transat accident where the aircraft's rudder separated from its vertical tail fin and the more-recent discovery that there were disbanded rudder skin panels on a Federal Express aircraft. Both the Air Transat plane and the Federal Express plane were A300-600 models, the same as the American Airlines plane that crashed in Rockaway.

Weiner pointed out in his letter that the two incidents might "indicate that a structural flaw contributed to the flight 587 accident."

In his letter to Weiner, however, Mark K. Rosenker, the acting chairman for the NTSB, said that the Safety Board staff had actively participated in the Canadian investigation of the Air Transat accident and are currently investigating the disbond of the rudder in the Federal Express aircraft.

"As such, we have been very diligent in looking for similarities between the two recent events and the flight 587 accident," Rosenker said.

The letter goes on to say, "The Federal Express rudder showed areas of significant, preexisting disbonding of a rudder skin panel due to hydraulic fluid contamination. In contrast, the flight 587 rudder, the majority of which was recovered from Flushing Bay (sic), did not reveal any evidence of the delamination that was found in the FedEx rudder. All of the fractures in the flight 587 rudder exhibited the characteristics of structural overload and no significant preexisting damage was found.

"Additionally, extensive analysis of the flight data recorder and design data, as well as comparative examination of the vertical stabilizer and rudder from flight 587, and the vertical stabilizer and rudder fragments from Air Transat show distinctly different events."

The NTSB officially found nearly two years ago that the vertical stabilizer on American Airlines Flight 587 failed "as a result of multiple excessive pilot inputs to the rudder commanded by the first officer."

And, while the NTSB says that the "preponderance of evidence indicates there is no link between the accident involving the Air Transat A300 and the FedEx A300 and the accident involving American Airlines Flight 587," many experts, including five men who fly the A300 series aircraft for American Airlines, disagree.

On April 16, the five, including First Officer Todd Wissing, sent a letter to the NTSB.

"The NTSB, in the March 24, 2006 Safety Recommendations, has released significant data that throws a new light on some of the presumptions made in the AA 587 investigation concerning un-commanded rudder, the vulnerability of the vertical fin from damage due to rudder flutter; the susceptibility of rudder composite material to damage.

Weakening and delamination from contact and intrusion with hydraulic fluid; and the attempt by Airbus to implement wholly-inadequate - indeed, irresponsible and dangerous - timeframes for inspection of this extremely urgent safety issue where passengers and crew lives - if Air Transat 961 or AA 587 are any indication - could hang in the balance." This new information must be closely considered with a new look at the other factors involved in the investigation - such as the rudder pedal design of the A300, or the rudder design itself - so that all connected factors might be discovered, assessed and the future of air travel benefit from the conclusions."

A spokesperson for Weiner said that the Congressman "had the issue of AA 587 on his radar," but was unsure of the next step he will take in trying to get the NTSB to address the crash.

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