Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Saving Europe: Ground Airbus

Airbus takes American lives with its poorly engineered planes, and their livelihoods with its state subsidies. It's time for the gloves to come off.

American Airlines Flight 587, an Airbus A300, crashed in Queens on Nov. 12, 2001, minutes after taking off from JFK. All 260 people aboard were killed, together with five people on the ground . The Observer reports:

In its report, the NTSB said the tail and rudder failed because they were subjected to stresses 'beyond ultimate load', imposed because the co-pilot, Sten Molin, overreacted to minor turbulence and made five violent side-to-side 'rudder reversals'. The report said the design of the A300 controls was flawed because it allowed this to happen.

Why, you might ask, was the plane not grounded, as the DC-10 was after it killed 273 people at O'Hare? The report explains.

However, the NTSB investigation has been criticized by many insiders. Ellen Connors, the NTSB chair, told reporters last January that the report was delayed because of 'inappropriate' and 'intense' lobbying by Airbus over its contents, adding: 'The potential for contaminating the investigation exists.' In America, the NTSB staff is small and manufacturers provide many of the staff employed on air-crash investigations into their own products.

I'm not an aviation engineer. But since tail fins should not break off and control systems should not allow the airframe to be destroyed, I've since avoided flying Airbus.

It just happened again, on March 6, 2005.

At 35,000 feet above the Caribbean, Air Transat flight 961 was heading home to Quebec with 270 passengers and crew. At 3.45 pm last Sunday, the pilot noticed something very unusual. His Airbus A310's rudder - a structure 28 feet high - had fallen off and tumbled into the sea. In the world of aviation, the shock waves have yet to subside.

Airbus has repeatedly claimed that everything is fine, but the above report continues:

The Observer has learnt that after the 587 disaster, more than 20 American Airlines A300 pilots asked to be transferred to Boeings, although this meant months of retraining and loss of earnings. Some of those who contributed to pilots' bulletin boards last week expressed anger at the European manufacturer in vehement terms. One wrote that having attended an Airbus briefing about 587, he had refused to let any of his family take an A300 or A310 and had paid extra to take a circuitous route on holiday purely to avoid them: 'That is how convinced I am that there are significant problems associated with these aircraft.'

Now, on top of this, the EU is pushing for the US to accept their heavy state subsidies for the planned Airbus super-jumbo. The lead EUrocrat (a Sandy Berger-type disgraced Brit pol) is said to have slammed down the phone on his US opposite number as part of a cunning plan to persuade the US not to drag the EU subsidies in front of the WTO.

In the interests of air safety, the US should seriously re-review what happen on the 2 crashes and other related incidents, and if it concludes there is risk to travelers, should ground the A300 series until it is fixed. It should further require a full engineering audit of the design of all future Airbus models and refuse airworthiness certificates until its 120% happy with them.

And it should stop negotiating on subsidies and haul the EU in front of the WTO.

In case you think this is extreme, imagine how the EU would have reacted if the engineering problem was Boeing's and the Feds were about to tip $10 Billion into the Dreamliner.