Martin Marietta's work on jet parts criticized

August 10, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

Martin Marietta Corp.'s big Middle River complex has been accused of "incredibly shoddy" work on construction parts used in a European-built commercial jetliner.

Airbus Industrie's complaint has to do with part of the thrust reversers that the Baltimore County plant produces for use on the European consortium's A330 passenger jets.

"The quality was incredibly shoddy -- and you can quote me on that," said Bob Alizart, vice president of communications at Airbus, according to Bloomberg News Service.

The Middle River plant produces the unit as a subcontractor to Pratt and Whitney, which supplies Airbus with the engines for its A330 jetliner.

Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for Pratt, the East Hartford, Conn.-based division of United Technologies Corp., said the flaw was in the engine core cowl, which covers the thrust reversers.

He explained that the problem has to do with the bonding of the composite materials that make up the cowl. "One layer has come loose, and it had a bulge in it."

Mr. Sullivan stressed that the flaw does not jeopardize the safety of the plane, but it could rob the jet's engine of a small amount of power and cause it to use slightly more fuel.

Asked if the flaw threatened Martin's contract or if it would be penalized for the delay, Mr. Sullivan said: "We don't want to speculate on that. Martin Marietta is a fine company, they are a leader in the aerospace industry, and they are moving as aggressively as they can to solve the problem."

He added, "First we have to get the problem fixed, then we can see if there is any financial settlement involved."

Mr. Sullivan said the problem could delay the deliveries of four or five planes to Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines.

Martin Marietta spokesman Donald Carson said the company was disappointed by the comments from Airbus. He said the Middle River plant has manufactured more than 3,100 thrust reversers -- units that act like brakes to slow jets once they touch down on the runway -- over 20 years, and the plant has "a 100 percent safety record."

In May, the reverser used on the A330 met safety standards required for Federal Aviation Administration certification, Martin said in a statement yesterday.

The unit uses "advanced composite technology," the statement said, and "as expected, when working with new materials, there have been some start-up production problems."

Mr. Carson said that correcting the flaw "is the No. 1 priority" at the Middle River plant. "The company has its top engineers working seven days a week, along with support people from Pratt & Whitney, to solve the problem."

The plant was awarded a $300 million contract from Pratt in 1990 to produce thrust reversers.

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