Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Airbus Rudder Falls Off In Midair; US Media Misses It

At one point in my working life, I put in a few years in the commercial aviation sector. Aside from actually flying them or working on the aircraft systems, I took part in just about every aspect of that business from slinging bags to selling tickets, boarding planes, and pushing them back from the gates. Over the course of a bit over 3 years I must have taken part in a few thousand departures and got real familiar with the workings of the modern commercial airliner.

I never once had a rudder fall off of one of my company's planes.

Of course, I didn't have any Airbus aircraft in my fleet, either. Have a look at this lead in:

::::::::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.

Mercifully, the crew was able to turn the plane around, and by steering it with their wing and tail flaps managed to land at their point of departure in Varadero, Cuba, without loss of life. But as Canadian investigators try to discover what caused this near catastrophe, the specialist internet bulletin boards used by pilots, accident investigators and engineers are buzzing.

Yeah, I'll bet they're buzzing. This is the same type of aircraft that crashed up by JFK right after 9/11 - an American Airlines flight, you'll recall. The NTSB determined it was pilot error in their overworking the rudder. Hmmmm. I guess the part that bugs me the most is the lack of press-play this is getting. I realize it was a Canadian airline flying from Cuba to Canada, but this aircraft type is in use in the US by several carriers. Remember when the Boeing 737 - a huge workhorse in the industry with hundreds of thousands of hours in service - was accused of having a design problem in the rudder? That story went on for weeks. Here, we have a plane with a rudder that drops off into the sea at altitude and not a word on the matter in the US. Very strange.

Stranger still the story, related by Eric Florak at BitsBlog, is that the aircraft never declared an emergency (I bloody well would have!) and decided to return to Cuba rather than set down at Miami which was much closer. He suggests the reason for that was mitigation of the P/R problem by the company. Perhaps. They certainly wouldn't have been able to keep this quiet with the plane landing at Miami International. I don't know if that's what we're looking at, here, but it sure seems like news and I'm surprised this story is 5 days old and nothing heard here.

Hat Tip: Instapundit, BitsBlog.