Airbus say too many parts of its jets, and those of other makers, are dropping off or working loose during flights and has urged more vigilance in what airlines call ‘walk around inspections’.
Problem: Some airlines don’t do walk arounds anymore, or as often, or as expertly as before, and the risk is one day something lethal, like an infestation of insects blocking speed measuring pitots, might be overlooked, as happened to a 757 in 1996 with a loss of 189 lives.
The technical bulletin from Airbus to airlines seems to be aimed at managements that don’t think that frequently used airliners need walk around inspections by trained engineers.
It comes in the form of an ‘Operator Information Transmission’ dated in December in which Airbus says:
The purpose of this OIT is to remind Airbus operators the importance of reporting any System or Structural Part found detached from an A/C during walk around inspection, or maintenance activity, no matter the shape, material, size or weight.
Worldwide there have been an increased number of reports of parts being found as becoming detached from aircraft, of all manufacturers, in all flight phases. As an aircraft type certificate holder, Airbus is responsible to provide figures to their certifying authorities on reports of Parts Departing Aircraft (PDA), and it is also our responsibility to launch respective corrective actions if required to address these issues and prevent reoccurrence.
In line with AMC 20-8 and AMC and GM PART 21A.3B(b), which provides guidance on occurrences to be reported, loss of any part of the aircraft structure in flight is classified as a reportable occurrence.
Whenever an Airbus aircraft operator experiences a PDA event, it is requested that this be reported to Airbus. Accurate and timely reporting of PDA occurrence will allow Airbus to:
- Initiate investigation on first occurrence.
- Perform risk assessment of occurrence.
- Understand the frequency and rate of this event.
- Where identified Launch improved design / improved maintenance action / improved procedure to avoid further events.
- Monitor the efficiency of proposed solutions that have been developed deployed.
- Apply in service experience on future programs.
Qantas still makes walk around inspections of its aircraft, but in the case of domestic flights, not as often as before, nor with what its remaining but falling numbers of licensed aircraft engineers consider suitably trained staff in some circumstances.
It’s an argument most travellers would be unaware of or would prefer to ignore, but one that if the worst came to pass, everyone will hear about.