India’s aviation safety regulator sprung into action after an airworthiness directive by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that asked airlines operating Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft to manage the loading conditions on the planes to ensure its centre of gravity remains balanced under certain conditions. This entails reducing weight from the rear of the plane by either not loading the aft portion of the cargo hold or keeping seats in the last rows empty.
India is the biggest customer of the A320neo family of aircraft, with the country’s largest carrier IndiGo alone having ordered 280 A320neo and 150 A321neo planes. Other operators of the aircraft in India are low-cost carrier GoAir, Tata-Singapore Airlines joint-venture Vistara and national carrier Air India.
On the basis of the July 31-directive by the EASA, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) conducted random inspections of 28 such aircraft at various airports across the country to confirm compliance of the instructions.
“Based on EASA Airworthiness Directive (AD), DGCA issued instructions to all operators of A320/321neo aircraft on the issue of limiting the CG (centre of gravity) envelop to address the loading conditions. The DGCA has carried out random inspections on 28 A320neo family aircraft belonging to all four operators at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru to confirm compliance of the instructions and the same have been found in order. Our checks will continue,” the DGCA said in a statement on Wednesday.
The model is being operated by some of the largest airlines in the world including German carrier Lufthansa, Air China, British Airways, EasyJet, among others. To address the load management issue, some airlines such as Lufthansa and British Airways are reportedly not selling seats in the last two rows on flights being operated on A320neo and A321neo planes. Keeping the aft compartment of the five in the model’s cargo hold could reduce the load carrying capacity of these aircraft by up to 1.5 tonnes, according to aviation experts.
“Analysis and laboratory testing of the behaviour of the flight control laws of the A320neo identified a reduced efficiency of the angle of attack protection when the aeroplane is set in certain flight configurations and in combination with specific manoeuvres commanded by the flight crew…this condition, although never encountered during operations, if not corrected, could lead to excessive pitch attitude, possibly resulting in increased flight crew workload. To address this potential unsafe condition, Airbus issued the AFM TR (aircraft flight manual temporary revision), limiting the centre of gravity envelope, which prevents the aforementioned condition … providing aeroplane loading recommendations,” the directive issued by the EASA noted.
However, it has been pointed out by experts that the problem, which could lead to possible pitch control issues, occurs only under a combination of four factors — the aircraft’s centre of gravity must be significantly towards the rear of the plane; the aircraft must be in sustained and continuous deceleration; aircraft is making an approach; and the crew is required to make a dynamic pitch up maneuver. A combination of these four parameters to occur is pegged to be extremely rare.