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General Aviation Safety
On March 6, 2015, about 2310 central standard time, an Airbus Helicopters EC130 B4 helicopter, N356AM, operated by Air Methods Corporation, doing business as ARCH, struck the edge of a hospital building and impacted its parking lot near St. Louis, Missouri, during approach to an elevated rooftop helipad. The helicopter was destroyed by impact forces and a postcrash fire. The pilot was the sole occupant and sustained fatal thermal injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 135. The NTSB’s ongoing investigation determined that the accident was immediately survivable in the absence of a postcrash fire.
TO THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Issue a special airworthiness information bulletin (SAIB) informing all owners and operators of AS350 B3e and similarly designed variants of the availability of a crash-resistant fuel system retrofit kit and urging that it be installed as soon as practicable. To encourage helicopter owners and operators to retrofit existing helicopters with a crash-resistant fuel system, the SAIB should also discuss the helicopter accidents cited in this report.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Acceptable Action
St Louis, MO, United States
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FAA (Closed - Acceptable Action)
Safety Recommendation History
We note that on August 24, 2017, you issued SAIB SW-17-23, “Fuel System,” which encourages owners and operators to retrofit existing AS350 B3e helicopters with a CRFS in accordance with STC SR03931NY. Issuing this SAIB satisfies Safety Recommendation A-16-9, which is classified CLOSED--ACCEPTABLE ACTION.
-From Daniel K. Elwell, Acting Administrator: The FAA issued SAIB SW-17-23, Fuel System. on August 24, 2017, that encourages owners and operators to retrofit existing AS350 B3e helicopters with a CRFS in accordance with STC SR03931 NY. While the SAIB does not explicitly discuss the helicopter accidents addressed by this safety recommendation, the FAA emphasizes the impo11ance of fuel system crash resistance and its positive effect on the level of safety in the event of survivable crashes. We also noted that fuel system crash resistance in newly type-certificated Part 27 rotorcraft has been a regulatory requirement since November 2, 1994, which we believe sufficiently encourages owners and operators to take action regarding existing aircraft. A copy of this SAIB is available at the following website: http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatoryand_Guidance_Library/rgSAIB.nsf/0/3dc292c70197be4686258/186006086f8/$FILE/SW-l 7-23.pdf.
We note that you plan to discuss this important safety issue at various FAA safety outreach programs and to issue an SAIB to encourage owners and operators to install CRFS retrofit kits. We point out, however, that these two recommendations ask for similar, but separate SAIBs. As you are aware, Airbus Helicopters has developed a CRFS retrofit kit for existing AS350 B3e helicopters and is developing a retrofit kit for other similarly designed variants that are also in operation. The intent of A-16-009 is to notify the owners and operators of affected Airbus helicopters of the availability status of the CRFS retrofit kits and to encourage their installation. We issued A-16-010 because of our concern that owners and operators of other Part 27 and Part 29 helicopter models without a CRFS may not know if and when a retrofit becomes available in the future. Our investigation and discussions with owners and operators at a helicopter safety committee meeting found that, in general, it may be difficult for owners and operators to determine whether modifications are available to improve fuel system crash resistance for their particular helicopter models. In part, such difficulty is due to whether a modification is produced by the helicopter manufacturer or by a third-party manufacturer, which would likely affect how comprehensively owners and operators are notified of such changes (helicopter manufacturers are likely to have a more complete contact list than third-party manufacturers). Another complicating factor is that, although your database of supplemental type certificates (STCs) is publically available on the Internet, the search function on your website is not easy to use unless users know exactly what to look for. Moreover, a modification could be announced via a service bulletin; in which case, it would not be included in the STC database. Pending the issuance of two separate SAIBs that address the concerns described above, Safety Recommendations A-16-009 and -010 are classified OPEN—ACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
-From Michael P. Huerta, Administrator: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agrees with the Board's recommendations. However, we believe a general discussion of accidents with postcrash fires would be more beneficial in the SAIB to encourage the retrofit of existing helicopters with a Crash Resistant Fuel System (CRFS) than a discussion of the specific accidents that resulted in these recommendations. As the Board is aware, SAIBs are not mandatory and are intended to be an information and advisory system. SAIBs encourage the implementation of new approaches or make affected parties aware of a potential issue, along with the means to mitigate the associated risk. The typical distribution for an SAIB includes all known aircraft owners and operators, FAA Flight Standards Field Offices, and manufacturers. The FAA will work with the European Aviation Safety Agency to validate the certification design changes of the CRFS for the affected Airbus helicopters. We will also encourage the retrofit installation of the CRFS to all helicopter owners and operators using the SAIB, as well as discussions with operators during our safety outreach programs and any other opportunities that may arise. I will keep the Board informed of the progress of these recommendations and provide an update by September 2017.
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