The crash of a Romanian Airbus jet has again raised questions over Airbus' autopilot systems and whether standard pilot training is adequate for its high-tech planes.
Some experts say Airbus' more modern models - the so-called fly-by-wire jets controlled via computers and electronics rather than cables - require extensive training not always available in developing nations."We've told our members, `Don't mix Airbus and Third World airlines,"' said David Stempler, Washington spokesman for the International Airline Passengers Association.
The IAPA doesn't fault Airbus technology, but its newsletter recently questioned whether training in less developed nations is sufficient for the highly computerized cockpits of the newer A320, A330 and A340 models.
"That is totally unfounded, and we are looking into legal action" against IAPA, said Airbus spokeswoman Barbara Kracht. "Fly-by-wire has at no time been responsible for an accident."
The Airbus A310 belonging to Romania's Tarom Airlines crashed Friday just after taking off from Bucharest, killing all 59 people aboard.
No cause has been determined. Investigators found the plane's "black box" flight-data and voice recorders on Saturday.
Although the A310 has less-advanced technology than the newer models, the crash comes after a series of accidents that have raised questions about Airbus autopilot systems:
-In March 1994 an Aeroflot A310 crashed in Siberia, killing all 75 people aboard. The pilot's children were heard in the cockpit just before the crash, leading to suspicions the controls might have pulled out of place. Aeroflot maintained the cause was unclear and might have involved the autopilot.
-In April 1994 a China Airlines A300-600R crashed during an aborted landing at Nagoya, Japan, killing 264 of the 271 people on board. An investigation showed the inexperienced copilot was struggling with the autopilot controls.
-Last June an A330, Airbus' newest model, crashed just after takeoff on a test flight from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, southern France, killing seven. An investigation cited a combination of errors and the crew's difficulty in ascertaining the autopilot's mode during a test mimicking an engine failure.