It is far too early to tell whether structural problems had anything to do with the Yemeni Airbus crash earlier today in the Indian Ocean, as it headed for landing in Moroni, capital of the former French colony of the Comoros Islands. One hundred fifty three people are presumed to have died. One child was initially reported to have survived the crash.
The BBC reports on problems in the past with the Yemenia plane that crashed today:
The Yemenia Airbus 310 flight IY626 was flying from the Yemeni capital Sanaa, but many passengers on the plane began their journey in France. The EU voiced concern about Yemenia’s safety and proposed a world blacklist of those carriers deemed unsafe. The EU already has its own list, and its Transport Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, said such a list would be a “safety guarantee for all”.
Another EU official told Reuters news agency there were concerns about the airline’s “incomplete reporting procedure and incomplete follow-up” following 2007 tests on the aircraft which crashed, but that its record was improving.
But relatives gathered at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and at Marseille Marignane airport to wait for news expressed anger about the state of the aircraft used by Yemenia, which is is 51% owned by the Yemeni government and 49% by the Saudi government. “They put us aboard wrecks, they put us aboard coffins. That’s where they put us. It’s slaughter. It’s slaughter,” one relative in Paris told French TV. The AP reports:
Stephane Salord, the Comoros’ honorary consul in Marseille, called Yemenia’s aircraft “flying cattle trucks.” “This A310 is a plane that has posed problems for a long time, it is absolutely inadmissible that this airline Yemenia played with the lives of its passengers this way,” he said.
“Some people stand the whole way to Moroni,” said Mohamed Ali, a Comoran who went to Yemenia’s headquarters in Paris to try to get more information.
Thoue Djoumbe, a 28-year-old woman who lives in the French town of Fontainebleau, said she and others had complained about the airline for years. “It’s a lottery when you travel to Comoros,” said Djoumbe. “We’ve organized boycotts, we’ve told the Comoran community not to fly on Yemenia airways because they make a lot of money off of us and meanwhile the conditions on the planes are disastrous.”
By mid morning, Yemeni officials were blaming the weather. It has been said the first attempted landing was aborted, and the crash appears to have happened during a second attempt. The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was under 40 miles an hour, but Agence France Presse quoted a Yemeni official saying that winds were gusting up to 70 mph over rough seas. This is turbulent weather, but still ought to be something a widebody commercial jet can handle.
Turbulence has also been cited as a contributing factor in earlier Airbus crashes. Air France 447 crashed amidst thunder storms. Another Airbus crashed after take off in New York in 2001. Safety officials said that was due to co-pilot misusing the rudder as the plane was being buffetted about in the wake of another aircraft.
As I’ve written about in the recent past, questions have been raised about the structural design of the Airbus 300-series planes–in particular, points where the tail is attached to the main plane. Under pressure, some say, the tail can snap off possibly because the bolts that hold it to the plane are made of composite materials, as are other parts of the plane. But at this point, with no detailed analysis yet made public, by either the company or French investigators who have been dispatched to the scene, such suspicions remain unsubstantiated.
Bloomberg News reports that French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau cited past “faults” found in inspections of the crashed A310, which led Yemenia to be placed “under strict surveillance.” But he was quick to rule out connections to other accidents on Airbus planes, which are produced in France.
The French minister ruled out any link between the crashes of Yemenia’s A310 and Air France’s A330. “It would be as if there were two accidents with Clios and we withdrew all Clios from the road,” Bussereau said in remarks televised from Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, referring to the model from carmaker Renault SA.