Airbus Problems: Imagined Or Real?

Your article on aircraft accidents, "That sinking feeling at Airbus" (International Business, July 18), is a rush to judgment that does not evaluate the facts or reflect reality. BUSINESS WEEK's attempt to link three accidents to fly-by-wire (FBW) flight-control technology is incorrect and inappropriate. Citing the recent crash of a flight test aircraft performing an engine-out take-off maneuver, you see "ominous similarities to two other Airbus crashes." That flight, well beyond the range of normal airline operations, was conducted to establish safety limits as part of the certification process.

One of the two other incidents referenced occurred in Nagoya in April; that was a completely different type of aircraft--a non-FBW airplane. We are awaiting the report of the official investigation team.

Second, you point to an aircraft that in 1988 "crashed in France when the aircraft's computers were unable to help it clear a forest." That accident resulted from the airline-operated aircraft being flown 30 feet above a short grass airstrip in a local air show demonstration and into a forest. (Airbus pilots are restricted to 300 feet in such demonstrations.)

Computers cannot see forests or mountains. However, because of the aircraft's low speed and high angle of attack, the FBW system maintained the aircraft in a stable wing-level attitude, avoiding a deadly stall, that saved 130 of 132 people. The captain was stripped of his license.

Although the official probable cause of the third accident has not yet been released, the high probability may rest with the fact that the Russian captain's 15-year-old son was permitted to sit in the left seat with the aircraft flying at cruise altitude above Siberia.

Every accident is a tragedy that is felt deeply by the aircraft manufacturer and the airline. But your article's headline reflects more of an attempt to be clever than a clear understanding of the attitude at Airbus and the full belief we have in our aircraft.

David C. Venz

Vice-President, Communications

Airbus Industrie of North America Herndon, Va.

Regarding your article, what a nice piece of disinformation on behalf of Boeing: half truths, dubious hotchpotches, truncated explanations.

Marc Bonnet

Toulouse, France

While Airbus is quick to conveniently dismiss their rash of crashes as "pilot error," they seem reluctant to ask themselves the obvious question: Why are Airbus aircraft supposedly so much more prone to pilot error than those of other manufacturers?

Patrick Palazzolo

San Francisco Council 34

Air Line Pilots Assn.

Fremont, Calif.

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