FAA Orders Inspections & Repairs for 34,000 Pipers

NOTE:

This is a good example of FAA’s ongoing failure to serve safety with diligent regulation.

In this case, a series of accidents in the 1990’s caused NTSB to issue Safety Recommendation A-01-006 on 4/16/01. WEB FAA was partially responsive, and issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) in November 2001. NTSB considered this ‘recommendation’ by FAA to be sufficient, and showed A-01-006 ‘Closed, acceptable’ on 5/17/02. [NOTE: history has since shown NTSB between 2001 and 2009 was exceptionally passive, and focused on whittling down the list of Safety Recommendations.]

Pilots were not required to make any repairs, and accidents continued to happen. A more aggressive NTSB has emerged in the last couple years. When the 3/14/12 accident occurred (and it was the first flight after an annual inspection on 3/13/12!), NTSB pressed FAA for action. FAA then issued a proposal in early August 2012 and now, another six months later, has decided to make this inspection and repair a safety requirement.

It is astonishing that, given the speed at which things happen in aviation, FAA seems to be ‘glacial’ in their efforts to resolve known safety problems. One more clear example, showing the need for FAA REFORM.

The Federal Register WEB for Monday, February 2, includes an Airworthiness Directive issued by FAA ordering an estimated $15 Million worth of inspections and repairs on 34,013 older small aircraft manufactured by Piper Aircraft, Inc. Included are the single-engine PA-28 and PA-32 models, and the PA-34 and PA-44 (both twin-engine models). The safety issue was corrosion of stabilator control cables, as identified on these four Piper models. The AD applies to those aircraft in service for 15-years or more. For the record, the airplane service manuals include a special inspection with a requirement that the cable be replaced if any corrosion is found.

Numerous accidents preceded FAA’s issuance of the proposed order, as published in the Federal Register on 8/2/12. WEB Two of the most recent accidents investigated by NTSB include:

  1. 4/7/11: WEB a PA32 at Sundance Airport (HSD), in Oklahoma City. The pilot had just taken off when the cable snapped, causing the nose to point downward. He impacted the runway, did another hard bounce, and came to a stop with substantial damage but no injuries. The pilot and a passenger had been practicing touch-and-go landings.
  2. 3/14/12: WEB a PA32 at Warrenton, VA (HWY). A commercial pilot and flight instructor had departed the Manassas airport (HEF) earlier to practice maneuvers in a local practice area. They then went to Warrenton airport with intentions to do closed pattern practice. One landing was done and, on landing flare for the second landing, the pilot heard a loud ‘boom’ and the airplane’s nose dropped.

This analysis by aiREFORM does not (yet) include a closer look at the larger NTSB accident history, to determine extent of damage and numbers of fatalities during the decade-plus delay.

NTSB’s statement supporting the proposal was summarized as follows:

“Deborah A.P. Hersman, Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), stated that two special airworthiness information bulletins (SAIBs) have been issued that recommend inspecting the entire surface of each cable terminal, turnbuckle, or other cable fittings for corrosion or cracking. Within the past 2 years, the NTSB has investigated two accidents and one incident involving Piper airplanes where control cable assembly failures due to stress corrosion cracking led to failures of the horizontal stabilator control system. She stated that the fact these events continue to occur more than 10 years after the SAIBs were issued shows that the SAIBs were not effective.

The NTSB supports the need for this AD.”

 

It is good to see NTSB not only making Safety Recommendations, but also following through until they are implemented. Back in 2002, when NTSB prematurely ‘Closed’ their 2001 Safety Recommendation, they were clearly operating with a deficient concern for safety.

Also, it is a promising development, that FAA has chosen to finalize this AD. Doing so will likely save at least a few dozen lives in the next decade. The average cost to the owners of these aircraft will be less than $500 — money very well spent to not be confronted with the physical hazard, or the intense emotional distress, of a sudden loss of stabilator control.

Hopefully, this marks a new direction for FAA, in which they will quickly and decisively address safety issues for PA28’s, Boeing 787’s, and all types of aircraft.