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British Airways Suspends Service on A320s

June 26, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ British Airways suspended service on its two A320 aircraft as of midnight Sunday, hours after a new Air France plane of the same type crashed during an air show and killed at least three people.

The narrow-bodied short-to-medium-range A320 jet entered commercial service in April, and British Airways took possession of its second this month. Air France took delivery Thursday of the plane that crashed Sunday.

British Airways announced it was suspending both its A320s from routes between London’s Gatwick Airport and various European destinations starting at midnight.

″Following discussions with Airbus and the Civil Aviation Authority, we have decided to suspend the A320 services as a precautionary measure pending further information on the cause of today’s accident,″ an airline spokeswoman said.

She said alternative planes had been arranged and she did not anticipate any cancellations of flights. She was not identified, in keeping with British practice.

The Airbus A320 received its certification Feb. 26.

Airbus Industrie has 500 orders to purchase the craft. Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines agreed to buy up to 100 A320-300s for delivery between 1990 and 1995, with a firm commitment to buy 10 for delivery between 1990 and 1991.

″I doubt (the crash) would have an impact on our decision to purchase from Airbus,″ Alan Muncaster, staff vice president of corporate communications for Northwest, said Sunday. ″But obviously we would want to check into the cause of the crash.″

According to Airbus officials, the plane that crashed was delivered to Air France on Thursday. It made six flights on Saturday.

Air France has three of the aircraft, British Airways has two and Air Inter, the French domestic airline, has one, Airbus said.

According to witnesses, the Air France plane, taking part in a show in eastern France near the Swiss border, made a low pass over the small Habsheim airfield, clipped some trees at the end of the runway and plunged into a forest.

A London spokesman for the manufacturer, the four-nation Airbus Industrie consortium in which Britain has a large stake, refused comment on the possible effects for the consortium, saying only: ″Investigators are looking into the incident along with the French Civil Aviation Authority. There will be a full investigation.″

David Learmount, air transport editor of the respected journal, Flight International, said the A320 had been the most successful aircraft ever in terms of winning record orders before it was even in service.

Furthermore, he said, the circumstances of a display flight and an ordinary commercial passenger flight were quite different.

″Display flights during a show are designed to show the people on the ground and on board the maximum use that that aircraft could provide,″ he said. ″I don’t predict that the aviation world is going to react violently to this.

″However, I am not saying that this is a situation to be dismissed. ... It needs a lot of very, very careful looking into,″ Learmount said.

The A320 is the first aircraft equipped with electronic flight system and controls that are beside the pilot instead of in front of the pilot. The jet consumes 40 percent less fuel than similar two or three engine jets it is designed to replace.

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