AD 2014-03-03 adopted by FAA (icing hazards on Cessna light twins)

This is all about a dying breed: those old light twins

Cessna’s light twins play a special role at the foundation of the U.S. air cargo industry. Specifically, because of their age, they are inexpensive and are commonly flown by small firms that use them to feed banknotes, film, medical materials, and other cargo between hub airports and outlying airfields. A common strategy is to have these small-freight haulers fly outbound early in the morning, hang out (not flying) for 6-8 hours, then make a series of stops on the return, aiming to finish (and deliver all their freight) in the early-mid evening. The pilots work 12-14 hour days and build their logged flight time, earning a few hours each day and normally five or six days every week. These light twins typically fly at around 200 mph and have a range of around 1,000 miles, making them well-suited for serving single states or regional areas. They have also been used for low-cost passenger charter flights, especially in markets that can not even dream of having passenger air service.

Part of the delay is attributable to AOPA and other aviation interests, posturing to support the light twin user group. Insurance can be daunting throughout aviation, but when operators set up businesses to fly these light twins commercially, insurance can become impossible. The insurance companies can mandate flight restrictions, and failure to comply can void your coverage. Historically, FAA has not been helpful in this area, because FAA’s regulations have tended to be confusing, contradicting, and ambiguous. Squint at the text just so and, by golly, it looks like you may have found a cheaper way to fly the freight while saving a little money. So, what has evolved is a long history of commercial operations being flown by operators who are not really fully authorized (or insured) to fly commercially. When one of these marginal operators ends up in an accident, their insurance company may be quick to deny their insurance claims. What evolves is a conflict between operators and insurers. A proactive FAA has always been needed, and mostly been absent. This status quo tips the advantage to the insurance companies. AOPA has been advocating on behalf of the light twin user group and, just a few years ago, they formally asked FAA’s lawyers to produce a lengthy letter clarifying the precise legal meaning of ‘known icing’.

FAA got around to producing that letter (and more that followed) all of which was about as helpful as throwing a clump of smelly mud into a trough — and ruining the water. No meaningful clarification … and not a lot of help.

The Real Story: FAA’s Chronic Delay Problem…

This new Airworthiness Directive serves as an example of FAA’s chronic problem with delaying on new safety regulations. FAA has reviewed light twin icing accident records for more than fifty years. In this case, the manufacturer actually issued a mandatory Service Bulletin (MEB97-4) in 1997. Now, seventeen years later, FAA is effectively duplicating that mandate.

The last couple years of the delay is technical, related to the rulemaking process. When FAA first proposed these rules by posting an NPRM at the Federal Register on 6/3/11, they declared FAA’s position that the proposal would not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities. Some disagreed with FAA’s initial ‘no impact’ assessment. After more delay, FAA did a re-assessment, and agreed that there was a significant impact. FAA then repeated the process by issuing an initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) for public comment. So, nearly three years after initiating two public comment periods (and nearly sixty years after the first icing-related crashes of these Cessna light twins), FAA has finally announced their new safety directive.

…and FAA’s Bad Habit of blowing off the Public

FAA doesn’t just keep the definitions nebulous, they also deny the obvious. In FAA’s NPRM response that led to this AD, they denied the longevity of this Cessna icing problem. Here is a brief exchange FAA had with a citizen, Mr. Walter Embke, who cared enough to participate and express his concern. Mr. Embke “…commented that the NPRM (76 FR 32103, June 3, 2011) was trying to imply that all of icing accidents that were evaluated were recent, when in fact the accident history spanned 30 years.” Seems fair enough. So, here is FAA’s incredible response:

“We do not agree with the comments. We believe the AD is clear that recent icing-related accidents and incidents led us to investigate accidents over the past 30 years to get a historical perspective and to determine that there is an unsafe condition.”

But that is not the worst of FAA’s hypocrisy and lame-gaming. No, to see that just read below, a copy of FAA’s NPRM response, dismissing a suggestion submitted by Tracy A. Schoenrock of Pro Aire Cargo Consulting. Based in Oshkosh, WI, Mr. Schoenrock noted he operates a fleet of ten Cessna 310’s and stated: “The most arbitrary fact of all in this NPRM is that it only affects twin Cessna’s and not the numerous Beech and Piper aircraft that are also not certified for known ice but whose operation would be unaffected.” FAA’s response:

“This is an unsafe condition and is likely to exist on other airplanes. The FAA is regulatory bound to mitigate the unsafe condition and a means of doing that is through the issuance of an AD.”

Frankly, by this logic, FAA obviously should be issuing a more ‘global’ AD, covering Cessna, Beech, Piper and other manufacturers. But, also by this logic, if in fact FAA considers itself to be ‘regulatory bound’, it needs to also ‘…mitigate the unsafe conditions disclosed by aviation Whistleblowers’ … which THEY DO NOT DO. Quite the opposite, in fact. The record shows rampant concealment of failures AS WELL AS retaliation against the few aviation employees who responsibly speak up for safety and accountability. And, FAA routinely looks the other way when airlines and other outfits are hitting their non-federal aviation employee Whistleblowers with the retaliation hammer.

NTSB’s View of the Cessna light twin icing issue:

As usual, NTSB also offered ‘comments’ to the NPRM process. Here is a table (with links) to the seven accidents identified by NTSB in their formal response, which supported FAA’s long-overdue AD proposal:

5/31/00 SEA00FA095 C414, departing Great Falls, MT [KGTF]; a Lynch Flying Service aircraft with three employees onboard lands at Great Falls with at least a half inch of accumulated ice. Some of the ice is removed, and some is seen shedding from the C414 when it takes off. The departed flight encounters icing, is unable to climb, attempts to return, and impacts a mountain. Three aviation employees die, and there are no survivors. Probable Cause (approved 7/2/01) Full Narrative
12/14/00 NYC01FA056 C310, an Island Express charter cargo service encounters icing while en route from Maine toward Albany, NY [KALB]; the lone pilot is injured in a forced landing off airport, and is rescued, but he dies 6-days later. Probable Cause (approved 7/17/01) Full Narrative
12/11/03 ATL04FA051 C414, approaching Greenville, TN [KGCY]; ices up, banks to the left and crashes while circling to land. Four fatalities, one survivor. Probable Cause (approved 12/28/04) Full Narrative
1/3/04 LAX04LA087 C421, a Scenic Air Part 135 commercial flight, making a circling instrument approach to the Window Rock, AZ airport [KRQE]; aircraft makes a hard landing and investigations indicate it was caused by ice accumulation. Five on board, no reported injuries. Probable Cause (approved 6/8/05) Full Narrative
1/14/04 NYC04LA067 C421, a corporate flight from Kalamazoo, MI to Ravenna, OH [29G], ices up. A series of three passes is made over the runway, trying to see through the blurred windscreen. While low on the third pass and as the pilot was doing a landing flare, the copilot extends the flaps, and the aircraft stalls to a hard landing. Five on board, no reported injuries. Probable Cause (approved 6/8/05) Full Narrative
12/7/04 LAX05FA045 C310, an Aero Charter Part 135 commercial flight, performing a daily route transporting banknotes, medical specimens, etc. The pilot arrives at the Flagstaff, AZ airport [KFLG] with substantial ice. The pilot then has a deicing performed, but delays for another hour or so. When he departs, he crashes within two miles after takeoff. Lone pilot was killed. Probable Cause (approved 5/29/07) Full Narrative
2/21/11 CEN11CA199 C310, approaching the Lewis University Airport in Romeoville, IL [KLOT]; encounters icing and makes a hard landing. Lone pilot was uninjured. Probable Cause (approved 6/20/11)