Analysis | Should airlines ground all A330s pending investigation?

Incident raises major safety concerns regarding the aircraft type

The aircraft, registered as B-18302, operated by China Airlines (CAL) is pictured in this undated file photo. (Courtesy of Rumic Wong/www.jetphotos.com)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — An Airbus A330-300 aircraft carrying 80 passengers was involved in a serious incident on June 14: three primary flight computers, thrust reversers, and autobrake systems failed upon landing at Taipei Songshan Airport (台北松山機場).

The aircraft, registered as B-18302, was operated by a Taiwan-based carrier, China Airlines (CAL, 中華航空), for flight CI202 from China’s Shanghai Pudong Airport.

The pilots applied maximum manual braking upon noticing the anomaly, according to the Aviation Herald, and were able to stop the aircraft less than 10 meters from the end of the 2,600-meter-long runway.

As a result, a potentially disastrous accident was prevented at this airport in the middle of Taipei City, where residential buildings surround the perimeter of the area.

After news of the incident came into light in recent days, media companies and members of the aviation industry have expressed concern over the close call. UDN reported on July 4 that such a major incident involving such catastrophic failures on this aircraft type is the first of its kind around the world.

The founder and chairman of Starlux Airlines, Chang Kuo-wei (張國煒), said in a comment that from a perspective of a fully qualified pilot himself, that such a situation would have been severely dangerous if the plane was closer to full capacity in normal circumstances and carrying hundreds of passengers.

A prominent voice in the Taiwanese aviation industry and known for his attention to flight safety, Chairman Chang urged the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) temporarily ground the A330 aircraft type until the main cause of the incident is understood by investigators.

The CAA responded by rejecting Chairman Chang’s calls to minimize risk pending investigation, instead emphasizing that Songshan Airport’s runway length is sufficient for an Airbus A330 carrying a full load to land safely under normal conditions.

However, the CAA advised airline pilots flying the aircraft type to pay particular attention for a similar failure occurring on the Airbus A330, particularly during raining weather conditions where runways are wet and slippery, hindering deacceleration and increasing the chances of a runway excursion.

In the status quo, China Airlines operates 23 A330-300s, while its rival EVA Airways operates 9 of the same aircraft type, according to the Liberty Times.

In a statement by China Airlines, the airline explained that it was working with Airbus to investigate the incident, and will follow the Airbus maintenance manual when repairing the aircraft.

On the other hand, EVA Air has explained that it has not encountered a similar situation with its aircraft, but has contacted Airbus to inquire about the details of the incident and how the airline can take preventative measures through training.

Last month’s serious incident was a miracle in the sense that very few passengers were onboard, granting the A330 an opportunity to stop in unfavorable runway conditions while experiencing severe aircraft failures.

Had there been more passengers on board, or if the China Airlines pilots did not take quick action, the flight may have ended very differently. As such, it may be wise to temporarily suspend the use of this aircraft on shorter runways, especially considering that a second similar occurrence could be catastrophic.

On the other hand, others may argue that the Airbus A330-300 is a popular aircraft type that has flown reliability for decades, including into Taipei Songshan Airport.

Unlike the Boeing 737 MAX which has problems stemming from poor aircraft design, this isolated incident could be possibly be as a result of human error or improper maintenance.

In the foreseeable future, airlines are unlikely to ground the A330-300 unless the investigation reveals design flaws, or if the CAA decides to change its mind.

One way or the other, one will have to wait patiently for investigators to look into the incident before more conclusions can be drawn. Stay tuned to The China Post, as further developments regarding this concerning incident will be reported as soon as they are available.