Friday, November 6, 2015
FAA Sets May Deadline for Occupant-Protection Analysis
A new U.S. working group has six months to compare for the FAA the costs and benefits of requiring better occupant-protection provisions in all newly built helicopters. The aviation agency on Nov. 5 launched the Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group as a subset of its Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee and charged it with producing a cost-benefits analysis report by May 5, 2016. The FAA in the 1980s and 1990s adopted new regulations requiring seats that reduced the risk of fatal occupant injuries in a crash as well as aircraft designs that maintain a “survivable volume” in the cabin post-crash, restrain large masses above and behind occupants and incorporate crash-resistant fuel systems. But those rules only apply to helicopters whose type certificates were issued after they became effective. The rules do not apply to existing designs or new helicopters built as derivatives of an older type certificate. A recent FAA Rotorcraft Directorate-supported study estimated that only 16% of U.S. registered, type-certificated rotorcraft fully comply with the more stringent fuel system requirements implemented 21 years ago, and only 10% of those rotorcraft comply with the other, tougher occupant-protection measures implemented 26 years ago. In the public notice of the working group’s creation, the FAA observed that the number of U.S. helicopter accidents has decreased in the last 10 years. But the number of fatal helicopter accidents and fatalities remains virtually unchanged, the agency said. “If the occupant protection improvement rules are not incorporated in new production helicopters,” the agency said, “there will be no meaningful reduction in the number of fatalities in helicopter accidents.” Based on the cost-benefits analysis, the FAA might ask the working group to recommend how the occupant-protection standards should be applied to newly built rotorcraft or propose alternate occupant-protection measures for those aircraft. Persons, companies or organizations interested in participating in the working group should contact the FAA as outlined in the notice. The deadline for contacting the agency is Dec. 7.