The headline on a May 29 article about a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation implied that the agency blamed the rudder design for the 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in New York. The NTSB cited a 1997 incident involving the airline's Flight 903 from Boston to Miami when it recommended that Airbus modify the rudder system on its A300-600 aircraft. Flight 587 involved the same aircraft model, but the agency has not determined what caused that crash. (Published 6/3/04)

The National Transportation Safety Board yesterday recommended that Airbus change the rudder system design on an aircraft that has been involved in two serious incidents, including the November 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 that killed 265 people.

The board recommended that Airbus modify the rudder system on its A300-600 aircraft, particularly how the system responds during rapid airspeed changes, such as sudden turbulence or a storm. The NTSB also urged the Federal Aviation Administration to evaluate other aircraft with similar rudder systems to determine whether they operate safely.

The NTSB issued its recommendation late yesterday, citing a 1997 incident aboard an American Airlines flight to Miami in which the plane suddenly rolled to the right, then the left, then right again before stalling and plunging more than 3,000 feet in a matter of seconds. One flight-crew member and a passenger were seriously injured, but the plane landed safely.

The board has not determined what caused Flight 587 to crash shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport into a Belle Harbor, N.Y., neighborhood. Its investigation has focused on the performance of the rudder and the pilots' use of it after the plane encountered wake turbulence. The NTSB is expected to reach its final conclusion this summer.

As the Flight 587 investigation continues, American Airlines and Airbus are in a bitter debate over the cause of the crash. American said yesterday that the NTSB recommendation indicated that the Airbus rudder was flawed. American is the only U.S. passenger carrier that flies the A300-600.

The rudder "limitations, along with others related to the sensitivity of the system, are precisely the concerns American addressed in its final submission and recommendations to the NSTB regarding the Flight 587 accident," American said in a statement yesterday.

Airbus downplayed the relevance of yesterday's recommendation to the crash. "This has nothing to do with 587. American is trying to pin it on the airplane," said Clay McConnell, an Airbus spokesman. "We're supportive of the recommendation. This is something we can do to enhance safety even in those extremely rare circumstances" of rapid airspeed changes, he said.