American Airlines pilots want Airbus planes grounded during crash probe

Friday, January 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some pilots say Airbus A300 jets should be grounded until investigators learn why American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in New York last November.

An Airbus A300-600 plunged to the ground Nov. 12 shortly after taking off from Kennedy Airport, killing 265 people. The tail fell off the plane before the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating, and pilots don't know whether some unseen defect in the plane's tail caused the crash.

More than 70 pilots have signed a statement saying there is no way to adequately inspect the Airbus tails, which are made of a nonmetallic composite material. There are no procedures for using ultrasound or another method to look inside the composite.

``They have very little confidence in the industry-accepted standard of visual inspections alone,'' said Robert Sproc, an American pilot for 11 years and Miami vice chairman of the Allied Pilots Association.

Following the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered visual inspections of the Airbus tails. The FAA has not ordered American to stop flying the planes.

Airbus Industrie, the plane's French-based manufacturer, said there is no need to look for hidden damage because tests have shown any problems that cannot be seen are not severe enough to weaken the tail.

John Lauber, Airbus' vice president of safety and technical affairs, said the design and tests of the tail assumed they would not be inspected for hidden flaws.

``If damage is not visible, then we know it does not affect the strength of the material, and it will not grow during the service life of the airplane,'' he said. ``A visual inspection will be adequate to find any anomaly that would be of concern.''

NTSB investigators reported earlier this month that layers of the tail peeled away, but they didn't know if the problem contributed to the crash or occurred after the tail hit the ground.

Former NTSB investigator Greg Feith said there should be a way to inspect the tail to find hidden flaws.

``When they designed that airplane and designed that tail, they should have designed the ability to do an inspection,'' Feith said. ``If it's weakened in any way, that's going to fail just like any material.''

The pilots who drafted the petition had planned to send it to American, but the company obtained a copy and responded before receiving it. American then invited some of those pilots to spend the day Thursday at American's Airbus maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla., to see how the planes are maintained and inspected.

``Nothing in the examination of the Airbus fleet, or in the tests conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board, by American Airlines or by other Airbus operators suggest that there is a need to ground this fleet,'' the airline said.