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FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 8:23 am

FAA knew of problem with tail of Airbus


From Saturday's Globe and Mail

A safety warning affecting the tail section of Airbus A-300 jetliners was scheduled to take effect one day after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which plunged out of control Monday after its vertical tail apparently ripped off in flight.

The warning, known as an airworthiness directive, points out a serious safety problem that could leave the pilot without rudder control, making it difficult, if not impossible, to guide the airliner.

The American Airlines jet that crashed after takeoff in New York was an Airbus A-300 Model B4 manufactured in 1988. It was among those that the warning affects.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority first published the airworthiness directive on Oct. 29. It was scheduled to take effect Tuesday, forcing all A-300 operators to inspect key rudder-system components.

Investigators of Monday's crash have not drawn any conclusions, but it is increasingly clear they believe the tail section played a key role.

An aircraft structural engineer familiar with the A-300 said problems with the rudder system could have led to a cascading series of failures, with the jet's vertical fin separating from the airliner.

The FAA issued the warning after French aviation authorities alerted them to problems discovered in at least two other Airbus A-300s.

It warns that corrosion of components known as spring boxes could lead to an emergency, and reads:

"Since an unsafe condition has been identified that is likely to exist or develop on other airplanes of the same type design . . . this AD is being issued to prevent failure of both spring boxes of the variable lever arm (VLA) due to corrosion damage, which could result in jammed rudder pedals, loss of rudder control, and consequent reduced controllability of the airplane."

On Thursday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board issued a new directive that calls for the inspection of the tail assemblies on Airbus Model A300 airplanes, operated by 27 airlines around the world. The directive warns of possible "loss of the vertical stabilizer and/or rudder and consequent loss of control of the airplane."

It calls for a detailed inspection of a long list of components, including the fittings that attach the fin to the airframe, rudder-hinge fittings, rudder-hinge arms, support fittings for all rudder hinges, and rudder-actuator support fittings.

The role of the rudder in the crash of Flight 587 has been a topic of intense discussion among investigators probing the crash, which killed 260 people aboard the plane and several others on the ground.

The jet broke apart in flight less than three minutes after taking off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, raining jet fuel and flaming wreckage on the Rockaway neighbourhood in Queens.

Investigators increasingly believe the crash was caused by an unprecedented structural failure of the jet's vertical tail which was found in the waters of Jamaica Bay, several kilometers from the rest of the wreckage. Aviation experts believe the jet went out of control after the fin ripped off, shedding parts and spinning toward the Earth as the pilots fought helplessly for control.

Digital information recovered from the doomed jet's flight-data recorder shows Flight 587 encountered wake turbulence from a Japan Airlines 747 that had taken off just ahead of it. There has been extensive speculation that the Airbus may have broken apart after hitting the other jet's wake.

But aviation experts dismiss that idea, pointing out that airliners are designed to withstand forces many times higher than those that could be experienced in wake turbulence.

Instead, they believe the wake turbulence exposed a fatal flaw in the jet's structure or control systems.

"An intact airliner would never come apart in wake turbulence," said an aircraft structural engineer who worked on the certification of the A-300 when it was first introduced to the North American market. "But if there was something wrong, it would magnify it."

The engineer said problems with the rudder system could have led to a series of failures as the aircraft encountered the swirling air of the other jet's wake. He believes the rudder may have torn away as the pilots fought to overcome binding in the system, changing the aerodynamic configuration of the tail and subjecting the fin to massive and unanticipated loads.

Flight-data recorder information released by the NTSB portrays a disastrous scenario consistent with this postulation.

After hitting the wake of the plane ahead of it, the Airbus began a series of oscillations, yawing from left to right, then back again. Seconds later, the data stream from the Airbus's rudder "became unreliable," in the words of NTSB investigators, indicating a serious malfunction of some kind.

The jet then began rolling to its left side as the pilots fought helplessly to compensate. Before it stopped working, the flight-data recorder shows the Airbus rolled 25 degrees to the left, even though the pilots applied full-right roll control. The recorder also shows the jet dropped into a 30-degree dive, and began revolving rapidly toward the left.

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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 8:36 am

From what I have heard this defect couldn't have had any role in the tail coming off. It was something totally different that just happened to involve that section of the aircraft. This is probably something from nothing by the media, but who knows.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 9:11 am

I believe I stumbled on an incident report a few days ago that likely spurred this AD - an AA A-300 (not the accident aircraft) went through a series of uncommanded rudder inputs a while back, similar to the 737 problems a few years ago.

I too can't see how this is related to the AA 587 crash, and the inspections would have been looking at a different part of the tail than the part relevant to this investigation. Uncommanded rudder inputs, while dangerous, are certainly not going to be enough to snap a tail off any more than normal commanded rudder inputs would. There still had to be something else going on with this tail to break it off.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 12:15 pm

Fucking journalists. This long article is all based on the assumption that the accident aircraft was a B4 (as stated in the text). It was a -600R, as different as a 747-100 is to a 747-400. And this is widely known, a lot of news reports in the UK papers have referred to the aircraft as an "A300-600R". It's not like the difference between a 737-200 and a 737-200ADV.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 1:10 pm

What about the Airbus A310, A330, & A340-200/300 that have the same identical tail as the A300, will they have to be inspected also?
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Mon Nov 19, 2001 1:38 pm

Cedarjet, this is a question, not a statement, but isn't the technical designator of the aircraft the Airbus A300B4-600R, marketed as the A300-600R? Just like the Fokker 50 and 100 were the F27-050 and the F28-0100.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 2:08 am

Getting the type wrong rather ruins the report's credibility, and it's an important difference too. The -600 tail is different to a B4.
The -600 tail is common only to the A310 as far as I'm aware.
A310's in service since 1983, -600's since 1984. The early A310's were used by carriers such as Swissair and Lufthansa on European short-haul routes. You would think that a design defect would have showed up sooner, Swissair and LH may not use them now, but these A310's are mostly still flying.
And plenty of A300-600's older than the AA fleet.
But it's a odd accident.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 2:17 am

This is what I thought when I read this article. They AD refers to another type of aircraft, even when it is only a derivate. The A300B4-600R is the correct version, too, but usually one differs between the A300B4 and the A300-600(R). The latter is a much-updated A300B4. I think you can it compare thesituation to the early B767-200 and the new B767-200s CO is getting now, these have been updated, too. And I still have some problems to believe that this was an accident...

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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 2:45 am

GDB, Lufthansa still uses both A310s and A300s.
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 3:06 am

This is not true. Although A300-600R is a derivative of A300B4. But it's tail are not from the A300B4 family instead it is the same one that is used and designed for A310. The scenario of 767-200 is totally wrong.
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Tue Nov 20, 2001 4:03 am

How many A310's have LH still got? I thought at least some had been sold, to Fed-Ex maybe?
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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 4:27 am

I concur.....the A300 605 is really an A300B4 605.

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RE: FAA Knew Of Problem With Tail Of Airbus A-300

Tue Nov 20, 2001 4:52 am

The A300-600 has a vertical stabilizer which is fully composite (skin,spars, attach points, etc).

The A310-300 also has a composite vertical stabilizer.

On the other hand, the A310-200 has a conventional aluminum fin as I'm sure the the original B4/B2 must have.
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