Pilots say Rockaway crash was caused by malfunction

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A pilots’ group has taken issue with a federal agency’s suggestion that turbulence or pilot error may have caused the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 at Belle Harbor in November, according to a published report.

Vanity Fair magazine quoted pilots who had flown the Airbus A300-600 jetliner — the type of plane that crashed into the Rockaway peninsula killing 265 people — as saying such aircraft had previously experienced malfunctions.

Two of the pilots have already decided to switch to flying other types of airliners, Vanity Fair said.

Flight 587 took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport en route to Santo Domingo Nov. 12 and crashed into Belle Harbor a minute and a half later, killing 260 people on the plane and five on the ground.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which plans to hold a public hearing in October into the cause of the crash, has issued periodic updates on its investigation.

Marion Blakey, chairman of the NTSB, said a few months ago that the Airbus was buffeted by the wake from a Japan Air Lines 747 that took off just before it and that the American Airlines pilot might have overreacted with too heavy pressure on the rudder pedal,

The plane’s tail assembly was ripped off.

“Some of those who fly the Airbus A300-600 do not find this story plausible,” David Rose wrote in Vanity Fair.

“To have responded to turbulence in the manner suggested would have been to disregard everything a pilot learns in training, they say. They have logged a lengthy dossier of other incidents in which Airbus jets have flown out of control —- not through pilot error, they say, but through malfunctions in their computerized control systems, which are the most advanced in the industry. In addition, they say, the inspection regime Airbus recommends for the revolutionary ‘composite’ material used to build the Airbus A300-600 tail is inadequate and could allow dangerous flaws to remain undetected.”

The investigation into the crash “has literally shaken the foundations upon which we define what is, or is not, safe,” a group of eight pilots of American Airlines A300-600s wrote in a letter to Blakey and Jane Garvey, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

James H. Williams Jr., professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, expressed reservations about the reliability of the carbon fiber composite material used in making the A300-600’s tail assembly, the Vanity Fair article said.

“Composites are wonderful materials, but there’s a lot about them we do not understand,” Williams said. “The safety and comfort of our families, friends and the dedicated crews who serve us demand that these issues be addressed. And, out of respect for those directly affected by Flight 587, the sooner the better.”

The NTSB said its investigation determined that the composite material in the tail showed evidence of “delaminati­on,” meaning that layers of the material had peeled away and separated.

The article said eight pilots who fly Airbus A300-600s sent a 73-page dossier to Blakey and Garvey in late March.

“They said the ‘flight control malfunctions’ so frequently experienced on A300-600s ‘in many cases defy reasonable explanation.’ In a letter responding to the pilots’ dossier, the FAA director of aircraft certification service, John J. Hickey, wrote: ‘to date, no information has come to my attention that would warrant grounding of the A300-600 fleet.’ In a separate letter, the NTSB agreed with that assessment,” the article said.

American Airlines said it “does not believe there is any pattern” to these incidents and that “they may have several causes, including mis-wiring and overreaction by the plane’s computers to imbalances in engine power,” Vanity Fair said.

A spokeswoman for Airbus Industries told the New York Post the article was “a major and irresponsible fishing expedition.”

Jason Goldberg, pilot of an Airbus A300-600, told Vanity Fair: “given the number of unanswered questions right now, I just don’t feel comfortable flying the A300-600.”

Goldberg has begun the training course for the Boeing 767 jet and Capt. Bob Tamburini has already transferred to piloting 767s, the magazine said.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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