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Airbus Steps Up Checks Of Composite Rudder Assemblies

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 thereafter.

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.

FMI: www.airbus.com, www.easa.eu.int

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