Airbus will have a final fix for the A321neo-pitch issue available only by Q3 2020, a spokesperson has told Airinsight. Until then pilots flying the type will be advised to prevent certain manoeuvres through an amendment of Aircraft Flight Manual procedures.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on July 17 issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that addresses the issue. It covers Airbus A321-251/252/253Ns and the A321LR-version with CFM LEAP-1A and A321-271/272/273N and A321LR with Pratt & Whitney PW1100G-JMs with three power ratings.
The AD says that analysis of the behavior of the Elevator Aileron Computer (ELAC) with a specific L102 non-loadable and loadable software revealed that “excessive pitch attitude can occur in certain conditions and during specific manoeuvres. This condition, if not corrected, could result in reduced control of the aeroplane.”
In reply to written questions, an Airbus spokesperson adds: “This AD only addresses A321neo in certain, and remote, conditions and in combination with specific commanded manoeuvers.” It seems unlikely then that these manoeuvres can occur in daily operations of the aircraft. Airbus says “no in-service issue was notified, and an Airbus proactive improvement identified during on-going development tests.”
On Dutch website UpintheSky an A321neo-pilot said the pitch up can occur during a go-around manoeuvre below 100 knots. If not corrected properly this could result in a tail-strike. His airline is aware of the issue for some time and crew are taking account of it when preparing for an approach.
The AD covers all A321neo and A321LR serial numbers, which seems to indicate that the root of the problem has been within the software from day 1 and is not the result of a software update. Airbus did not answer a specific question on this. At the same time, the EASA-document seems to exclude un unspecified number of aircraft that don’t have the affected ELAC installed.
Airbus released seven flight manual amendments that were approved by EASA on June 21 and July 10 and instruct airlines and pilots how to cope with the software behavior by preventing the aircraft from performing specific manoeuvres that could endanger operations. EASA considers the AD to be an interim solution that must be implemented within 30 days and doesn’t rule out more actions.
Airbus adds to this: “An immediate mitigation solution, which consists of an operational dispatch limitation, is available to customers. There is no need for modification to existing operational and training procedures. We have supported the EASA decision to issue an AD. Customers have been informed and we are working with them, implementing the AD. The final fix will be available in Q3 2020.”
As of June 30, 2019, 193 A321neo’s had been delivered to airlines and lessors out of 2.686 on order. Orders include 24 of the latest A321XLR-version for IAG and Qantas ordered at the Paris Air Show, with other announcements at the show either to be confirmed or listed as undisclosed.
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
Richard is contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He also writes for Airliner World, Aviation News, Piloot & Vliegtuig, and Luchtvaartnieuws Magazine. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.