Airbus A380 cutaway. Credit: FlightGlobal

A quick note for you text-addicts who don’t recognize aviation-speak: “ATB” means “air turn-back” and “AOG” is “airplane on ground”, otherwise known as “we broke it”.

So, a couple of the super-jumbo A380s had some problems recently. Yawn.

No one will ever mistake me for an Airbus apologist – if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going – but in all fairness to the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys™, these incidents are not the big deals they’re being made out to be. And both are contingencies that we prepare and train pilots for (the wing cracks are another story entirely).

In the case of the engine shutdown, it’s worth pointing out that Airbus didn’t make the engine – they just hang it on the airframe. In this case, the Rolls-Royce powerplant was shut down after apparently “surging” in flight. It remains to be seen if some weird interplay of airflow between the wing and engine nacelles was at fault, but any number of explanations having nothing to do with design are possible at this point. If they experienced wake turbulence and the surge bleed valves failed on that engine, then yeah, it’d surge. Stuff happens. Machines break. That’s why we have mechanics.

Likewise, the other turnback for a pressurization failure could have conceivably resulted from a design fault (there’s a lot of plumbing in an airframe that big) but it could just as likely be a maintenance error.

In any case, who knows the real story? This illustrates why you can almost never trust the early version of events in any incident, especially as reported by the popular media. For the most part they simply have no idea what they’re talking about and frequently get basic facts dead-assed wrong (example: I recall a news story on the American 587 accident which reported the plane as being a “Boeing Airbus”. That’s like describing a truck as a “Ford Toyota”).

This makes for a useful mental exercise…extrapolate that tidbit to just about anything else you see in the news and ask yourself this question: how much does that reporter/editor/producer really comprehend about the subject?

Which leads to the next logical question: if the answer is “not very much”, then how much of what they’re telling you is just parroting the conventional wisdom or is outright conjecture? Given the evidence, the simplest answer for that one is “quite a bit, actually”.


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