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American Airlines pilots have told the government it should consider grounding the Airbus A300-600, one of which crashed in New York last year, because of safety questions.
American Airlines and Airbus Industrie say the plane is safe. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered new inspections of Airbus A300-600s but has not ordered the aircraft not to fly. In a report submitted this week to the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, the American pilots concluded: “Serious consideration must be given to grounding the entire A300-600 fleet until its airworthiness can be assured.” Eight pilots signed a letter accompanying the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. The pilots presented the report Wednesday to their union, the Allied Pilots Association, which has not endorsed the recommendations. Union representatives are helping the safety board’s investigation of the Nov. 12 crash, which killed 265 people.
Some American pilots in January signed an e-mail petition asking the company to ground the Airbus, but the effort failed. This is the first time pilots have taken their request to the federal government. In their letter, they attached the results of a two-month study analyzing safety issues surrounding the plane. “The flying public must have assurances that every aircraft they board is designed and maintained to the highest standards,” the pilots said.
Safety board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said the agency had received the report and would respond to it. FAA spokesman Les Dorr also said the report would be reviewed. American Flight 587 experienced several sharp side-to-side movements before its tail fell off and the plane crashed shortly after taking off from Kennedy Airport. The FAA earlier this month ordered inspections of A300-600 and A310 planes that experience similar movements. Both planes have tails made of nonmetallic composite materials.
In addition, tails of A300-600 planes that have hit turbulence in the past or had sharp rudder movements underwent ultrasound inspections. American checked two planes and found no damage. The inspections came after safety board investigators found previously undetected damage to the tail of an American Airbus that swayed while trying to land at West Palm Beach Airport in Florida, in May 1997. Two people were injured.
The Airbus that crashed in November had been severely shaken by air turbulence in November 1994 while flying from Barbados to Puerto Rico, injuring 47 people, federal investigators said. In addition, the plane’s tail hit the runway while landing at Montego Bay, Jamaica, in December 1997, safety board records show. No one was injured.
Dorr said future ultrasound inspections would depend on new evidence, because taking off the tail could cause damage to the plane. In their report, the pilots called for reviewing the process for certifying composite parts, and for redesigning the rudders. They said there have been several instances when the Airbus rudders moved on their own. In a statement, American Airlines noted that only eight of its 400 Airbus pilots signed the latest letter, and said no one has refused to fly the plane. “If they don’t think the Airbus is airworthy, why are they still flying it?” the airline statement asked.
Airbus officials have said tests show that damage that can’t be seen cannot weaken the tail, and company spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn said the safety board’s investigation has not found any safety problems with the plane. “The A300 was and remains a safe aircraft,” she said.
During the probe, board investigators discovered that moving a plane’s rudder in one direction, followed by a sharp movement in the other direction, could break off the tail fin. The safety board issued such a warning last month.
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