| Flames burst out from the broken nose gear of the Airbus 320 in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (AP)
Sept. 24: When the aircraft finally came to rest on the long Los Angeles runway, its nose wheels jammed at right angles to the fuselage, the 140 passengers let out a sigh of relief. But not the manufacturer, Airbus Industrie.
It was not the first time that an Airbus plane of the A320 family had landed that way.
The European airplane builder today acknowledged previous incidents similar to the one that caused Wednesday’s emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
“These incidents all ended without a problem and we must await the end of the inquiry to know what really caused this one and if the causes are the same,” an Airbus spokeswoman said.
While the French airline waits for what investigators have to say, the sparks from the emergency landing could reach India, too.
National domestic carrier Indian Airlines has placed an order for 43 aircraft with Airbus and any unsolved problems could create hurdles for the Rs 9,890-crore deal. The huge order, one of the largest Airbus has bagged in recent years, comprises 20 A321s, 19 A319s and four A320s.
India, too, has had its share of problems with A320 nose wheels. “In rare occurrences, when you make a sharp turn, one of the wheels goes up. Ideally, both wheels should remain on ground or else there is too much load on one wheel and the axle which could collapse. We discussed this with a British firm which makes the gears,” said Capt. S.S. Panesar, a former director, flight safety, with Indian Airlines.
An IA spokesperson, however, said the airline had no problems with Airbus.
Airline sources added that there had been no accidents and the problems which pilots had encountered initially had been “solved through modification”.
Air Deccan, the only other airline in India which flies A320s, also denied any problems with the planes. “We have had no problems at all with A320,” said Capt. G.R. Gopinath, the airline’s managing director.
But Wednesday’s incident could give ammunition to other players in the airline industry, one of the most cut-throat in the world. For instance, when Boeing bagged a $6.9-billion order from Air-India in April ' a deal that helped several jobs in America ' Airbus had cried foul.
In the US, The New York Times reported yesterday, citing federal aviation administration officials, that it was at least the seventh time that an Airbus plane of the A320 family has had problems with its nose wheels.
Investigators today said that in preparation for the emergency landing, the crew had moved passengers and cabin baggage into the empty seats at the back of the plane, so the pilot could keep the nose wheels off the ground as long as possible. In the end, the sideways wheels dragged over about 1,000 feet of runway.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent the plane’s “black boxes” to Washington for analysis and was preparing to send the front landing gear as well, said Howard Plagens, a senior air safety investigator.
The passengers later recounted fraught hours they spent watching their own predicament unfold on television screens built into the back of each seat.
“We couldn’t believe the irony, that we were watching our own demise on TV. That seemed a little bit, you know, post-modern,” said six-months pregnant passenger Alexandra Jacobs.
Many of the passengers ' who included Hollywood actress Taryn Manning, two musicians, a comedian and a journalist ' took pictures of the unfolding crisis on cellphone cameras or recorded farewell messages before the crippled plane touched down in a hail of sparks and smoke.