European aircraft maker Airbus said yesterday it plans to ask airlines to inspect hundreds of planes after part of the rudder fell off an...

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WASHINGTON — European aircraft maker Airbus said yesterday it plans to ask airlines to inspect hundreds of planes after part of the rudder fell off an A310 jetliner in flight.

A Canadian-based Air Transat jet lost most of its rudder — the vertical moving part at the back of the tail fin, made out of composites — soon after leaving Cuba for Quebec on March 6.

The pilot was able to maintain control and return to Havana. None of the 270 passengers and crew was injured.

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It’s extremely unusual for any part of the rudder to fall off. In November 2001, the tail came off a similar Airbus jet in New York, killing 265 people.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board has begun an investigation, and a performance engineer for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is taking part, said NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.

Meanwhile, Airbus will ask airlines to conduct detailed inspections of the A310 and A300 rudders, said Barbara Kracht, an Airbus spokeswoman.

“We always want to be on the safe side and take as many precautionary measures as possible, but in a proper frame,” Kracht said. “It’s pointless to ask for inspections of things which are not relevant.”

The inspections are likely to apply to some 400 jets — all A310s in service and those A300s with the more recent, composite rudders.

The jet that crashed in New York was an Airbus A300-600, which has the same rudder system as the A310.

The NTSB later concluded the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 587 improperly moved the rudder back and forth to try to steady the plane, causing more pressure than the tail could bear.

The rudders and tails of the Airbus planes are made of a nonmetallic composite material. Canada’s safety board plans to look into the composite construction and the way it’s inspected, said Marc Fernandez, investigator in charge.

Boeing also uses composites on its jets. The tail of the 777 is made of composites and has had no performance problems in 10 years of service.

Boeing plans to greatly increase the use of composites on its next jet, the 787, for which most of the airframe will be built from layers of carbon fiber impregnated with epoxy resin.

Boeing spokeswoman Liz Verdier said it was speculative to jump to any conclusion about the Airbus incident.

Whatever material is used, airplane parts must meet the same strict federal aviation requirements and undergo the same rigorous testing, she said.

“Whether it’s made of aluminum, layered glass and acrylic, composites or cardboard, it doesn’t matter what material is used as long as it meets the specifications,” said Verdier.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates contributed to this report.