Thursday, March 17, 2005

Flight of the Fin Nixed
I haven't heard much in the news about this incident - an Airbus 310 happened to lose its rudder in mid-flight. It happened on Air Transat flight 961 flying from Cuba to Quebec City. Barely into the flight, and without warning, the plane lost significant altitude before the pilot was able to regain control by using the wing flaps for maneuvering (having discovered in the process that he had no rudder controls).

Something is up with Airbus - there have been a number of flights now where rudders have sheared off their planes (the most tragic incident being the American Airlines crash in Queens, NY that happened soon after 9/11). The article linked above mentions the possibility that the growing use of composite materials in airline construction may be to blame - specifically the processing of such materials and the stresses of flight which may undermine their architecture and integrity.

The passenger jet building industry, where Boeing and Airbus primarily compete, has been elevated to a proxy war between the US and Europe. The surge of Airbus to #1 in orders and deliveries has infused Europeans with nationalistic pride - Airbus being the exemplar of European technological ingenuity and prowess. Indeed, the recent unveiling of the titanic 840 passenger carrying whopper Airbus A380 has only served to raise the stakes in the battle for airline construction dominance. Boeing has countered Airbus' move by developing the 7E7 Dreamliner - a 200-250 seat mid-size jet that aims to fly long-haul flights faster than competing airframes. The differing strategies between the two companies are interesting, with Airbus aiming to allow airlines to maximize seat volume on popular routes versus Boeing's intention to provide airlines with planes that can cover distances faster (luring customers who want shorter flight times and therefore be the marketing edge over competing rivals who fly slower in the same route).

The falling off of rudder fins could severely dent Airbus' business if it is proven that their rudder design is marred by significant design/materials flaws. It remains to be seen how this issue will be investigated, given the current nature of political and trade relationships between the US and Europe. Any handicapping of Airbus business will not only effect the airline industry, but also to a larger extent the evolving crafting of a nationalistic pan-European identity where the success of Airbus plays a significant role.


At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

on a related note, I watched a program on TV last night dramatizing events regarding a certain flight years ago out of Lima, Peru. it seems that over three People did not see the tape left over the sensory controls on the exterior of the plane. this tape was put there to protect them while the plane was being washed or some such thing. as a result, the plane was "flying blind" and crashed into the water. unfortunately, the same thing happened eight months before on a flight out of Germany. a peice of tape, no bigger than a DVD movie case on both sides of the plane.

Human error.


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