By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
It was November 2001 when an Airbus A300 operated by American Airlines crashed in New York after losing its rudder and vertical stabilizer in flight, killing 265 people, and on Friday, the FAA issued its final rule to address the problem. The FAA revised its proposed rule, which would have required a change to the rudder pedals to limit travel, to allow for an alternative proposed by Airbus -- a warning system and more crew training. The FAA estimates rudder-pedal changes would cost about $200,000 for each of the 215 airplanes affected, but the Airbus warning system would cost just $108,000, or as little as $73,000, depending on the age of the aircraft's computer system. Operators have four years in which to develop and implement the fixes.
Airbus says its alternative system will require the installation of a warning light on the glareshield directly in front of each pilot and an associated "stop rudder inputs" aural warning, in addition to revising the airplane flight manual and reinforced flight-crew training. NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said in a letter to the FAA that a warning light alone, with no mechanical changes to the rudder system, "will not rectify the unsafe condition." The FAA, however, said it has determined that the warning light, together with a loud verbal warning and flight crew training, "will prevent the flight crew from
exceeding the ultimate design loads that could result in failure of the vertical stabilizer." Besides the 2001 crash, rudder inputs caused excessive loads on the tail in at least two other Airbus incidents, the NTSB said, but no crash or loss of life occurred.