Airbus: Retire Fly By Wire

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
By George Hatcher

George’s Point of View

While we face a crisis of confidence in the latest evolution of air travel technology, it amazes me how many articles are out there that praise the Airbus. Hull loss statistics and disasters are staring us all in the face. The top criteria of plane design should still be safety.

All of us–passengers and aviation professionals alike– are still subject to the flaws of performance, design, maintenance and safety standards. It’s hard to know where to start.

I’m not even going to talk about fly-by-wire philosophy, even though it has contributed to fatal accidents, like the TAM crash where the fly-by-wire system failed to interpret how to cope with an Airbus’s disabled reverser on a slick runway in less than optimal conditions.

I’m just going to say this because it needs to be said.

Someone needs to stop defending Airbus, and turn an eye to all those hull losses.

And all those deaths.

We have stats that show 5,000+ planes have been manufactured. Thousands of deaths have been attributed to Airbus failure:
A300 – 1449 deaths
A310 678 deaths (plus today’s 146=824)
A320-655 deaths
A330-236 deaths

(and this is not a complete list.)

Just go to go to Aviation Safety Net and examine the hull loss statistics of the Airbus.

It’s not just ONE problem. There are a lot of problems, especially if you follow some Airbus history.

The investigation of a 2001 Airbus A300-600 crash led to the discovery that a panel on the tail fin can move beyond its safe limit, which can cause the tail fin to shear off and the plane to crash. Read about Flight 587 and Airbus’s history of non-disclosure of Airbus flaws.

Historically, alleged problems with construction or computer systems have been instrumental in catastrophic vertical stabilizer or tail fin loss. “One of the 24 automatic messages sent from the plane minutes before it disappeared pointed to a problem in the ‘rudder limiter.”

The tail fin fiasco has supposedly been improved upon. It’s now better because it’s plastic. ! ? ! In fact, a large percentage of the Airbus is composed of a carbon-fiber composite, which can be a problem, not only because composite parts can bend or twist unpredictably in flight, but also their tensile strength is questionable, AND so is the length of time they can perform before degrading.

And of course, we’ve all heard about the pitot tubes. While there are other systems out there that seem to be viable, the THALES brand pitot tubes which are known to freeze up, and have not been replaced. Whether flawed readings causes a plane to slow down and fly into a stall or speed up and fly into a dive, either result is catastrophic.

And then, of course, there’s the computer system which may have just gone haywire. As reported by the Northwest Airlines A330 that experienced problems similar to Flight 447, they ran into turbulence. “Their primary and standby airspeed indicators showed the plane had slowed dramatically. Other systems that automatically maintain speed and altitude also disengaged. The master warning and master caution indications flashed on the instrument panel for three minutes until the captain flew out of the weather.”

So now we have a less than perfect aircraft, that is 19 years old, and getting decrepit. The public description of this plane makes it sound unbelievable–like the aviation equivalent of the bus to Cartagena in the movie “Romancing the Stone:” Babies on laps, no seatbelts, seats not even fastened down, and some passengers who fly standing up the whole way.

Is there any surprise when a plane like this (that is banned from French airspace and shunted off to a poor area like Comoros) falls out of the sky and kills all but one passenger? The fact that a plane banned from European airspace is shunted off to serve the inhabitants of an impoverished nation is a failure of the operational practice of the aviation industry. Where are the criteria in place to protect those citizens?

There ought to be a law.

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