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Mon, Dec 29, 2008

Circumstances Surrounding Air NZ A320 Downing Trouble Airlines

Investigation's Slow Pace 'Troublesome'

The global airline community anxiously awaits investigators' findings in the November 27 crash of an Air New Zealand Airbus 320 on approach to Perpignon, France. Although Airbus has refused to speculate on the cause of the accident, The New Zealand Herald reports the incident may be the third in three months stemming from a defective flight control computer.

As ANN reported, seven people were lost when the A320 suddenly dove and banked into the Mediterranean near the end of a post-maintenance ferry flight... the third instance in as many months that an Airbus had maneuvered erratically while in flight.

Airbus released a service bulletin shortly after a Qantas A330 dropped about 650 feet within seconds while flying over Australia in early October. That SB advised operators of the advanced widebody airliner -- and its larger A340 sibling -- to be aware of an apparent glitch in air data computers manufactured by Litton Industries, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.

In that case, a preliminary report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau determined one of the A330's three Air Data Inertial Reference Unit sent incorrect information to the aircraft's fly-by-wire flight control system, which caused the autopilot to disconnect due to warnings of an imminent stall.

The flight data computers on the Air New Zealand aircraft were manufactured by another company, Honeywell.

Pieces of the destroyed airliner are now being collected in a large hangar in Perpignon for forensic analysis. Although no one doubts the importance of conducting a methodical investigation, many are dismayed at the delay in extracting information crucial to determining the cause of the accident from the two recovered flight data recorders.

Tim Burfoot, New Zealand's chief investigator from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, made clear the need to establish the cause of the crash in a timely fashion to prevent its repetition. Burfoot said, "It is important that we are able to draw some lessons from this accident."

Coping with the painstakingly slow process, he said the European investigators were "going through protocols to comply with French law" before releasing the flight data recorders for analysis to Honeywell, their manufacturer.

"If there's any information on them, Honeywell will have the technology to get it," Burfoot said. "But if we can't get anything off them, it will be a very drawn-out process of trying to piece together information from the remains of the aircraft."

According to a report from the New Zealand Herald, an Air New Zealand spokeswoman defended the ongoing investigative process, saying that speculation was neither helpful nor comforting to those involved. "The French authorities have spared no effort or expense, and we fully acknowledge that they have a due process to go through to determine the cause of the accident," she said.

FMI: www.airbus.com, www.airnewzealand.com, www.taic.org.nz

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