TOULOUSE, FRANCE – Airbus NV has dispatched two experts to Jakarta to assist in the investigation of the missing A320 airliner operated by AirAsia Bhd., the budget carrier that rose from almost nothing in 2001 to become the plane maker’s biggest customer.
The single-aisle jet lost contact with air traffic control Sunday morning, operating a scheduled service from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore with 155 passengers. Joining the Airbus team will be experts from France’s BEA air accident investigation bureau, which routinely sends staff to probe aircraft accidents involving planes made in France.
Airbus and AirAsia founder Tony Fernandes have fostered a close relationship over the years, with the entrepreneur building his airline exclusively around jets from the Toulouse, France-based manufacturer. Their special bond was on display at this year’s Farnborough Air Show, where Fernandes embraced Airbus executives on stage and lauded their longtime support, before cementing their ties with an order for 50 long-range A330neo airliners that Airbus had unveiled at the expo.
AirAsia has ordered 766 A320 aircraft over the years, including 291 A320neo models with more efficient engines that have yet to be delivered. The carrier is among the top 10 operators of the most popular Airbus airliner, which was first introduced in the late 1980s and solidified the manufacturer’s success as the only veritable competitor to Boeing Co. in the popular single-aisle market.
The A320, the first commercial airliner to rely on fly-by-wire technology previously common only in the cockpits of military aircraft, has built a reputation as a sturdy workhorse, with more than 6,000 A320 family aircraft in service to date with over 300 operators.
Accidents with the aircraft are rare; the most high-profile incident in recent memory involved the landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Chesley Sullenberger in the Hudson River in January 2009, with no fatalities. The last time an Airbus single-aisle plane suffered a deadly accident was in 2010, when an A321 operated by Pakistani carrier Airblue crashed into rugged terrain in heavy rain, killing all 152 people on board.
The Airbus A320-200 is a twin-engine single-aisle aircraft seating as many as 180 passengers in a single-class configuration. The plane that disappeared in Asia was delivered to AirAsia from the production line in October 2008 and belonged to the Indonesian operations of the budget airline.
Powered by CFM 56-5B engines built by a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA, the aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, Airbus said on its website.