Eleven years ago today, November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed shortly after taking off from JFK International Airport in Queens, New York, killing all 260 people on board and 5 others on the ground. The aircraft involved was an Airbus A300-B4-605R.
One of the central questions in the subsequent investigation was whether the flight crew applied excessive rudder pedal input following an encounter with wake turbulence from another aircraft. Many in the aviation industry criticized the pilot training program at American Airlines for not adequately teaching pilots the physical limits of the Airbus A300 rudder system. Others, however, blamed the aircraft’s design, stating that the rudder system should be able to prevent a pilot from making such dramatic inputs so as to threaten the structural integrity of the aircraft.
In a testament to the exceedingly slow pace of safety improvements in this country, the FAA, on November 9, 2012 (eleven years after the AA 587 crash) published a new Airworthiness Directive aimed right at the Airbus A300 rudder system design. The AD states that it “was prompted by events of excessive rudder pedal inputs and consequent high loads on the vertical stabilizer on several airplanes.”
The AD, which is no doubt opposed by many due to its high cost of compliance, requires a design change to the existing A300 rudder control system to include, for example, a rudder pedal input damper or the installation of a warning system telling pilots to stop further rudder pedal input.
This author has always fallen into the camp of those who wondered how a large commercial aircraft’s design could allow a pilot to literally rip the tail off of the airplane by stepping on the rudder pedal too quickly. It appears that the FAA had the same question and is now, albeit very belatedly, taking action.
If you have any questions about commercial or general aviation safety, please call William Angelley at (214) 826-5400.