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Saturday 20 December  
Yemenia Airbus
Peter van Beem's picture
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

Airbus: spate of accidents doesn't mean planes are unsafe

Published on : 30 June 2009 - 4:43pm | By Peter van Beem
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Are the aircraft rolling off the production lines at European aircraft manufacturer Airbus unsafe? You would almost be forgiven for thinking so in the wake of the third Airbus crash this year and the hundreds of lives lost. The latest Airbus crash occurred en route from Yemen to the Comoros Islands, with 153 people on board the plane.
This year's first Airbus accident occurred in New York where a close encounter with a flock of birds caused both motors to fail. Fortunately it ended in a successful emergency landing in the Hudson River, with no serious casualties. One month ago, an Air France Airbus went down over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people on board. And now an Airbus has crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Comoros archipelago.


Statistics undermine emotions
Statistically, there is nothing wrong with Airbus. The facts and figures contradict the emotional response to such a dramatic series of events. Airbus builds particularly safe planes which, thanks to their modern design and state-of-the-art electronics, fly many millions of kilometres each year without any problems. In this regard, it performs no better and no worse than its US rival Boeing. Rumours that the Airbus's fly-by-wire system and advanced electronics stop pilots from intervening in an emergency are unfounded.

Flying an Airbus on manual is difficult but perfectly possible. In its latest models, Boeing makes use of the same systems. In recent years, the number of aviation accidents has been split evenly between the two manufacturers. Accidents involving Ilyushins and Tupolevs are more common, but this is mainly the result of poor maintenance in the countries where these planes are used.

Extreme weather conditions
There are a number of similarities between the crash of Air France flight AF 447 and Yemenia flight IY626. In both cases, extreme weather conditions had a major part to play. In the case of the Air France flight, the plane is thought to have flown into a heavy electrical storm. While it would have been better for the pilots to fly around the storm, the weather system is believed to have been so extensive that this could have involved a detour of as much as 1000 kilometres.

The Yemenia Airbus also hit bad weather as it approached the airport at Moroni. The nearest alternative - Dzaoudzi-Pamandzi Airport - was several hundred kilometres away and has a very short runway. In this case too, the pilots opted to brave the extreme conditions.

Sixty percent of all accidents take place on the approach or landing. In 56 percent of cases, the pilots make an error of judgement, 17 percent are due to technical malfunctions on board the aircraft and in 13 percent of cases, the primary cause of the crash is bad weather.

The distribution of the wreckage over a wide area suggests that the aircraft disintegrated at high altitude. Given that an explosion has more or less been ruled out, the only possible cause remaining is that the aircraft endured a massive amount of excess pressure. This could well have been caused by an extremely ferocious electrical storm, possibly in combination with flying at much too high a speed.

Air France crash search called off

The search for victims and wreckage of the Air France Airbus in the Atlantic Ocean has now been called off. The hunt for the aircraft's flight recorders - or black boxes as they are often known - has proved fruitless. The devices are no longer transmitting a signal.

Yet even without the data from a black box, the cause of an accident can still be determined. Over 600 pieces of wreckage from the Air France Airbus have now been recovered. Medical examinations of the victims can also provided clues.

On the basis of all the information gleaned so far, it is almost certain that no explosion occurred on board the plane. The on-board computer sent a series of malfunction reports to the Air France maintenance division using high frequency radio. This fact indicates that the aircraft's electronic system, including all back-up resources, broke down relatively suddenly. There was not even time for the pilots to inform other aircraft on the same route using the standard emergency frequency.
The distribution of the wreckage over a wide area suggests that the aircraft disintegrated at high altitude. Given that an explosion has more or less been ruled out, the only possible cause remaining is that the aircraft endured a massive amount of excess pressure. This could well have been caused by an extremely ferocious electrical storm, possibly in combination with flying at much too high a speed.



Greg 4 November 2010 - 6:41am / New Zealand

Do not fly on any airbus A320-A380 as they are inherantly dangerous and unsafe. Speak with your traveling dollar and do not fly with any airline who runs Airbus. Stick with the far supperior Boeing.

Steven Bellingan 2 January 2010 - 4:34pm / South Africa

Airbus aircraft, compared to McDonnal Douglas and Boeing aircraft, are far less safe. They are weak performers and the happy-go-lucky manufacturer has made a trade off between safety and operating costs for Airlines. This has resulted in the aircraft being more popular amongst airlines, because it is cheaper to operate an A330 instead of a B747. Now, taking that into account, if AF 447 was a B777 or a B747, it would have landed safely at its destination. This is because aircraft manufactured by Boeing are well built, and pilots can understand what the a/c is doing, and if need be, TAKE FULL CONTROL OF THE AIRCRAFT. Please, hear me out. Another a/c that is relatively unsafe is ATR(also a European manufacturer), especially in adverse weather(particularly, icing weather)- there are plentiful incident and accident reports that are unknown to the general public.

At JHB Int' airport, there was an incident with an A340-600 where the flight computer did not give the pilots sufficient thrust at take off (TO/GA). They disengaged the autothrottle and attempted to manually throttle up, but the thrust latency let to them running over the end of the runway and damaging the Precision Approach lighting system. They managed to get airborne, but landed again soon after. This is also unknown to the general public because everyone is told to keep their mouths shut.

Here are some Airbus accidents and incidents that everyone should familiarise themselves with before flying in an Airbus again (Google them):
American Airlines Flight 587
Quantas Flight 72 (Similar to AF 447...Hmmm...)
1994 A330 test flight crash registration F-WWKH
China Airlines Flight 676

All these and many more have had 'unclear' investigation results, except for American Airlines Flight 587, where the actions of the First Officer was blamed for the crash. The obvious reason behind all of these is either structural or system failure of sorts that should be traced back to the manufacturer.

Another link to read up on:

Anonymous 2 January 2010 - 11:15pm / Australia

True, indeed, Steven.

I am a pilot and I have flown Boeing aircraft for most of my life. I just recently did an A330 conversion but I changed airlines now (back to flying the 767-300 ER) because the A330 is an aircraft where the Pilot is the 'back seat driver' telling the aircraft where to go but not really being able to physically handle the aircraft (I mean, you have such limited control when flying by hand) and in certain emergencies it retards the ability of the crew to act appropriatly. Airbus are good aircraft in certain aspects, but I do believe that there may be a safety issue.

Angela 19 October 2009 - 10:15pm
Badly need your help. There ain't no free lunches in this country. And don't go spending your whole life commiserating that you got raw deals. You've got to say, 'I think that if I keep working at this and want it bad enough I can have it.' I am from Afghanistan and bad know English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: "Products with considerably considerably only celebrity were seen in part of socks with hidden above work share." Thanks for the help :-), Angela.
Steve 1 July 2009 - 6:11pm
In the last two crashes we are not quite sure what caused the crashes. They could potentially point to a flaw in Airbus' planes. The crash in New York is hardly the manufacture's fault. Many airports have installed special radar to repel birds because they are so dangerous. A jet engine can take a few birds, but a whole flock would have most likely caused the same failure regardless of manufacturer.
boerlage 1 July 2009 - 12:31pm
Your new edtion is faboulous. Gerry BOERLAGE
Ludwig 1 July 2009 - 1:24am
It is a sad and tragic accident in the Indian Ocean. I remember when Yemenia Airlines had a Boeing 727 a long time ago.
Hiram 30 June 2009 - 10:53pm
"Airbus: spate of accidents doesn't mean planes are unsafe"...{Yes, and it doesn't mean they are safe.} "Statistically, there is nothing wrong with Airbus."...{ Statistics tells me to stay off an Airbus until they can prove and correct the problems which caused them to go down.)

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