- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2002

Federal aviation safety officials said yesterday they have not yet identified the cause of the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 last November but said pilots should be vigilant about the pressure they apply to rudders.
"Certain rudder inputs by pilots made during certain stages of a flight can cause catastrophic failure of an airplane's vertical stabilizer," Marion Blakey, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference.
Mrs. Blakey said the concern was about all aircraft not just the Airbus A-300 that crashed in New York, taking 260 lives.
Safety officials received "reports from pilots where they have received rudder oscillations," she said, and that prompted the interim safety advisory.
"I think it is important for you and the traveling public to know that the investigation is not just limited to the accident itself," Mrs Blakey said.
She said the NTSB was asking the Federal Aviation Administration to make sure pilot training takes into account the various issues pertaining to rudder use. But she emphasized this has not been identified as the cause of the crash of Flight 587.
"It appears that many pilots have not been made aware that full rudder [application] in some airplane models can be achieved with relatively small pedal movement" of no more than an inch and a half, she said.
Mrs Blakey said the action taken by the NTSB was routine and should not alarm the public.
"During the course of any investigation, the NTSB will issue interim safety recommendations where we find that something needs immediate attention, whether or not it may relate to the probable cause of the accident," she said.
In this case, Mrs Blakey said, the NTSB is asking the FAA "to require pilot-training programs that describe the certification requirements" of rudder systems in the various airplane models.
In terms of Flight 587, she said, "It's important to know that we are in the early stages of this investigation and therefore that we have not come to any conclusion. We know that there were a series of rudder movements, but we do not know if those rudder movements were caused by the stabilizer failure."
Mrs. Blakey stressed that "we are not aware of any prior incidents in which rudder inputs of the type I'm talking about have led to separation of the plane's vertical stabilizer. Our purpose is not to create unnecessary concern, but the need to address this problem."
She said the continuing investigation of the crash of Flight 587 involves not only a look at rudder maneuvers and the vertical stabilizer, but also the composite materials in the tail fin.
Flight 587 crashed shortly after taking off from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Authorities don't believe it was a terrorist attack.
The plane crashed into a residential neighborhood in the Borough of Queens, killing all 260 persons on the plane and five on the ground, on its way to the Dominican Republic.
Investigators have said previously that the tail fin, or vertical stabilizer, rudder and two engines on the Airbus A300-600 plane fell off before it crashed, but said they didn't know why. That remains true.
NTSB investigators reported earlier that layers of the tail peeled away, but they didn't know if the problem contributed to the crash or occurred after the tail hit the water.

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