Pitch Problem On Second Airbus A320 Family Aircraft

After facing issues with the A321neo’s pitch, Airbus and EASA are now facing issues with the A320neo. According to an EASA airworthiness directive, simulations identified an issue with the aircraft’s angle of attack. Here, we explore the issues facing the neo and the significance of the EASA airworthiness directive.

Lufthansa A320neo
The A320neo may have a pitch problem. The Lufthansa Group currently operates 19 A320neos and will eventually have 60 aircraft. Photo: TJDarmstadt / Wikimedia Commons

The A320neo’s angle of attack issue

Issues relating to an aircraft’s angle of attack have made the news recently. Seemingly, every reiterated narrowbody aircraft is affected by this to vastly varying degrees. It should be clear, however, that there are significant dissimilarities between the issues facing each aircraft type.

Airbus told Simple Flying that the angle of attack issue facing the A320neo requires the combination of four conditions.

Firstly, the aircraft has aft biased center of gravity. Secondly, the aircraft is undergoing a sustained and continuous deceleration. Thirdly, the aircraft is in an approach or landing configuration. Lastly, the crew performs a dynamic pitch-up maneuver.

SAS A320NEO
SAS operates 15 A320neos. Photo: Mark Harkin / Wikimedia Commons

Under these conditions, the aircraft may enter an undesirable pitch-up situation. Presumably, this is outside of the regular angle of attack guidelines.

Contrary to the 737 MAX, which may maintain automated flight characteristics under manual flying, Airbus asserts that under no circumstances will automated flight controls take over from manual inputs.

The EASA airworthiness directive (AD)

EASA, the European Union’s equivalent to the American FAA, issued an airworthiness directive on the 31st of July 2019. The AD, which is sent to all aircraft type operators, acts as both a warning and an order to the operator.

On one hand, the AD notifies the operator of a known safety issue. On the other, it requires the operator to undertake the necessary actions found within the AD. Failure to comply with the AD within a specified time-frame will result in the removal of airworthiness of the operator’s aircraft.

LATAM A320neo
LATAM AirlinesGroup was the first North, Central, and South American airline to operate the A320neo. The group has ordered 67 aircraft across different variants. Photo: Rafael Luiz Canossa/ Wikimedia Commons

Concerning the A320neo, the EASA AD states that operators must comply with Airbus’ Flight Manual (AFM) Temporary Revision (TR). The AFM TR in question limits the A320neo’s center of gravity envelope, thus limiting the preconditions necessary for the angle of attack issue to arise.

The AD requires operators to amend their applicable AFMs and inform all flight crews of the issue. EASA further stated that this AD, numbered 2019-0189, is considered an interim action and that further AD actions may follow.

What’s the difference between the A320neo and A321neo issues?

Airbus was categorical in telling Simple Flying that the four preconditions necessary to cause concern on the A320neo were different from those impacting the A321neo.

By looking at the respective EASA ADs for the A320neo (2019-189) and the A321neo (2019-017R1) one core difference is noticeable, the Elevator Aileron Computer (ELAC).

Airbus A321neo front end
The Airbus A321neo has faced a different pitch issue to that of the A320neo. Photo: Clemens Vasters/ Wikimedia Commons

According to the A321neo’s AD, specific ELAC models may perform unfavorably under specific conditions. As Simple Flying previously reported, these conditions are:

  • A low approach altitude below 100ft
  • in a specific landing condition
  • with the aircraft having by a particularly aft center-of-gravity
  • with the crew performing a dynamic maneuver

While these conditions may seem very similar to those necessary for the A320neo’s limited angle of attack protection issue to arise, EASA clearly states that the “condition addressed by this AD and related required actions are different from those addressed by EASA AD 2019-0189 for A320neo aeroplanes.”

Air Astana A321neo
Air Astana, the national carrier of Kazakhstan, has leased numerous A321neos. One of which is from Irish lessor AerCap. Photo: Anna Zvereva / Wikimedia Commons

Although the A320neo family of aircraft may be facing some issues, it seems that both Airbus and EASA are taking a precautionary philosophy to avoid a crisis in confidence. 

What do you think of the issues facing the A320neo? Do you think Airbus and EASA are doing enough? Would you feel comfortable flying in one of the concerned aircraft? Let us know in the comments.

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Andres

This kind of corrections happen all the time in Airbus aircraft. They are part of the normal evolution of the flight control laws. This does not mean that an accident cannot happen, but being the A320 family a fly-by-wire aircraft from the initial design, the impact of such modifications is much better known as in a 737 MAX.

KP

GROUND THE SUCKERS — make Airbus show the whole world what it will do to fix it – let everyone evaluate the fix – then and only then after much political debate – let them fly again —- ooops – this is an Airbus not Boeing — forget two sets of rules

RM

KP, I don’t think that is how it works! At the end of the day Boeing didn’t tell airlines they had a problem and that is what caused the MAX accidents! Airbus is being far more talkative to airlines about the issue and how to solve it! At the end of the day Boeing is facing the consequences of their actions!

Niklas

RM, Smart answers… to this ………..KP…..S………….

This Forum is more for people with common sense and respect, with factual arguments…

Thank you and Greetings from Arlanda/Sweden

KPC

Exactly – we can read this as Airbus listening to carrier/pilot issues rather than scuttling them, i.e. how it should be done. Grounding them just leads to Boeings current behavior – hiding from the truth to maintain sales until they fall out of the sky.

Matt

Yup, an issue with center of gravity not being allowed to be as rear biased as previously thought, is the same as using one sensor only for a system that pilots didn’t know an aircraft is equipped with.

Martin

Airbus = on the front foot with full disclosure and updates.
Boeing = hide, lie, blame and let 350 people die.

Mmm same same KP….

Kaden

Absolutely!

kilonzo

EASA disclosed the AD first not Airbus so you should thank EASA and classify AIRBUS in the same class with Boeing.

Nigel

The issue was disclosed in Airbus Flight Operations Transmission 999.0059/19.
It came to light during Airbus “analysis and laboratory testing of the behavior of the flight control laws of the A320neo”, and was “never encountered during operations”.
Airbus passed the information on to EASA, who issued the following notice:

https://ad.easa.europa.eu/ad/2019-0189

There’s a PDF in the link with more info.