EASA Directive Applies To About 420 Aircraft
Conceding its prior recommended method to detect fatigue damage
in the composite rudder assemblies of Airbus A300 and A310 aircraft
may be inadequate, the European planemaker has stepped up
inspections on the vertical stabilizers on about 400 of its oldest
planes, as well as handful of newer A330 and A340 airliners.
The Wall Street Journal reports the stepped-up inspection
program subjects the tail assemblies of the affected planes to
repetitive ultrasonic and X-ray inspections, in order to find
possible areas of weakness in the composite fixtures.
Delamination in the composite core of the rudder assembly of an
Air Transat A310 led to an incident in which the aircraft lost
nearly its entire vertical control surface (shown above and below)
on a March 2005 flight between Cuba and Quebec. The aircraft was
able to return to Cuba, with no injuries reported.
In the wake of that incident,
the National Transportation Safety Board, FAA, and European
Aviation Safety Agency called for immediate inspections of
A300-series rudder assemblies, as well as continued inspections
Based on recommendations by Airbus, EASA later issued a
mandatory directive calling for the first such rudder checks to be
completed within six months or 500 cycles, with some inspections
repeated every 1,400 cycles -- on the low side for repetitive
inspections of primary flight structures and control surfaces.
The high-tech methods called for to inspect the rudder
assemblies are also a departure from Airbus' original inspection
methods, which only required a visual once-over and a mechanic
tapping on the rudder surface, to detect changes in tone that would
indicate internal failure.
Airbus North America spokesman Clay McDonnell said the majority
of the 400 A300s and A310s affected by the inspection schedule are
flown by non-US carriers. Twenty A330 and A340 widebodies,
assembled before Airbus changed its rudder-manufacturing process,
are also affected.