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Significant Regulatory & Related Activity

Fri, Jun 25, 2010 — David Evans

Featured, Regulatory & Other Items

8 June 2010                    Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

FR Doc 2010-13170          Docket No. FAA-2010-0329

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Airworthiness Directive (AD) for Aircraft Equipped With Rotax 912 A Series Engines

This notice of an AD contains a phrase not seen before:

“Non-compliance with these instructions could result in engine damage, personal injuries or death.”

Well, that will certainly get the recipients’ attention. Basically, the AD requires operators to replace fuel pumps with certain part numbers with a new FAA-approved design within the next 25 operating hours. The problem is one of overly high fuel pressure, which can result in engine malfunction or a massive fuel leak.

About 60 aircraft in U.S. registry are affected, and the replacement is estimated to cost about $700 per engine.

The Rotax 912 is a normally-aspirated, horizontally opposed four stroke, four cylinder piston engine with a gear reduction drive to the propeller. The engine is different from conventional aviation piston engines in that it has air-cooled cylinders with water-cooled cylinder heads. The engine is popular in light sport aircraft, experimental aircraft and ultralight aircraft.

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Typical Rotax 912 installation

The AD makes legally mandatory a Rotax service bulletin that lays out instructions for replacing the fuel pump, to include uniform torque on the hex nuts and a test run following replacement for a leakage test:

Rotax engines seem to have a reliability problem. Recall the forced landing on a highway of a Rotax powered experimental airplane in 2009. (See Aviation Safety Journal, May 2009, ‘Sudden Engine Failure; Where Are the Regulators?’) That particular incident involved a Rotax 503, in which a number of scenarios can result in sudden engine stoppage. As we said then, and restate now, it seems that Rotax engines may be fine for snowmobiles but are a chancy bet for a light sport aircraft’s primary source of power.

From the operations manual, the manufacturer acknowledges the design limitations of this engine, waning pilots:

“This engine, by its design, is subject to sudden stoppage. Engine stoppage can result in crashed landings, injury or death … This is not a certificated aircraft engine. It has not received any safety or durability testing, and conforms to no aircraft standards. It is for use in experimental, uncertificated aircraft and vehicles only in which an engine failure will not compromise safety …”

Comments on this latest action are due to the FAA by 23 July 2010.

On 15 June, the FAA published a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB No. CE-10-36) that covered the same issue, indicating that the SAIB “informs you of a possible [emphasis added] unsafe condition … on … Rotax aircraft engine 912 series.” As the heading of the SAIB says, “This is information only. Recommendations aren’t mandatory.”

So on the one hand, the FAA issues a mandatory AD, then publishes an SAIB outlining a possible unsafe condition for which action is not mandatory. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing at the FAA?

 

8 June 2010                     Department of Transportation (DOT)

FR Doc 2010-13572           Docket No. DOT-OST-2010-0140

NPRM, Enhancing Airline Passenger Protections

This notice covers the works: excessive delays after boarding, baggage fees, clarity of ticket prices, over booking, etc., and one item that directly affects the health and safety of passengers – the serving of peanuts during flight.

Some passengers are frightfully allergic to peanuts, either ingested or when exposed to peanut dust in the air. DOT is seeking comment on a possible outright ban on serving peanuts. About 1.8 million Americans suffer from a peanut allergy, and treatment airborne to a severe allergic reaction is problematic.

DOT is responding to concerns from travelers who either suffer from a peanut allergy or who have children who are allergic to peanuts. Some of these people choose not to fly out of fear of exposure to peanuts.

Symptoms include:

Hives

Swelling of lips, throat, face

Acute abdominal pain

Asthma

Anaphylactic shock

Anaphylactic shock is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Epinephrine (adrenalin) must be injected quickly, and the victim may require a breathing tube (endotracheal intubation).

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A peanut allergy can cause life-threatening reactions in people ingesting even trace amounts. Merely breathing peanut dust can cause problems, such as itching, sneezing and coughing.

Several airlines, including Continental, United, US Airways and JetBlue have voluntarily stopped serving packaged peanuts. Delta and Southwest hand out peanuts as in-flight snacks. American Airlines does not serve packaged peanuts but does offer a trail mix that contains peanut ingredients.

Congress banned DOT from taking action on behalf of allergic passengers in 1999; the Congressional prohibition was the work of the “peanut lobby,” those legislators from states where peanuts are grown and processed.

Congress has not said anything since, so DOT has raised the issue again:

“This specific congressional ban on our involvement in this issue has not appeared recently in any legislation. At this time, we are considering the following alternatives to provide greater access to air travel for individuals with severe peanut allergies:

“(1) Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products by both U.S. and foreign carriers on flights covered by DOT’s disability rule;

“(2) Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all such flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy is on board and has requested a peanut-free flight in advance; or

“(3) Requiring a peanut-free buffer zone in the immediate area of a passenger with a medically documented severe allergy to peanuts if the passenger has requested a peanut-free flight in advance.

“We seek comment on these approaches as well as the question of whether it would be preferable to maintain the current practice of not prescribing carrier practices concerning the serving of peanuts.

“We are particularly interested in hearing views on how peanuts and peanut products brought on board an aircraft by passengers should be handled. How likely is it that a passenger with allergies to peanuts will have severe adverse health reactions to being exposed to the airborne transmission of peanut particles in an aircraft cabin (as opposed to ingesting peanuts orally)?

“Will taking certain specific steps to prepare for a flight (e.g., carrying an epinephrine auto-injector in order to immediately and aggressively treat an anaphylactic reaction) sufficiently protect individuals with severe peanut allergies? Who should be responsible for ensuring an epinephrine auto-injector is available on a flight – the passenger with a severe peanut allergy or the carrier?

“Is there recent scientific or anecdotal evidence of serious in-flight medical events related to the airborne transmission of peanut particles? Should any food item that contains peanuts be included within the definition of peanut products (e.g., peanut butter crackers, products containing peanut oil)? Is there a way of limiting this definition?”

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If peanuts are aboard an airliner, this kind of warning sign

may be required in the cabin.

Comments are due to DOT by 9 August 2010.

 

9 June 2010           FAA, Atlantic City Technical Center

Presentations from May Meeting of the International Aircraft Systems Fire Protection Working Group

The full listing of presentation, minutes and attendee list is at www.fire.tc.faa.gov. Some selected presentations are mentioned below:

 

Studying the Accumulation of Water Ice on Fuel Lines and System Components:

Two events have prompted the FAA to study the issue: the 2008 accident at Heathrow involving a British Airways B777 on a flight from Beijing that experienced a power loss and crashed just short of the runway.

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That same year a “rollback” of engine power on a Delta Air Lines B777 on a flight from Shanghai to Atlanta. In both cases, ice is suspected to have clogged the fuel/oil heat exchanger (FOHE).

The FAA explains its work:

“Investigation focused on water ice accumulation in fuel lines at low fuel flow rates (cruise and descent) that was dislodged when high thrust was commanded.”

“Duplicating the precise chain of events during lab work has been problematic.”

“Preliminary testing: Used a simple test setup to examine the ability to accumulate ice on a single 12-inch long aluminum tube.

— Performed tests with fuel that was stored in a reservoir and saturated with water … at 80 deg F and then reduced temperature to 10 deg F.

— When the test article was exposed to fuel at low flow rates (<2 gals/minute), trace ice accumulated on the wall of the tube.”

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One wonders why the FAA is embarking on this effort now. First, extended flights in extremely cold winter air were anticipated years ago. Apparently, it took the accident and the incident to stimulate the FAA to better understand the problem of ice crystals clogging up the fuel system.

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Second, engine manufacturer Rolls Royce patented an ice-resistant fuel system in 1980. This patented system has not been deployed on airliners, and would resolve the clogging issue revealed in the British Airways and Delta B777 events. (See Aviation Safety Journal, March 2009, ‘Preheating Fuel May Prevent Ice Blockage’)

The problem of water-ice in fuel lines of overcoming the capacity of the fuel-oil heat exchanger (FOHE) is not unlike the phenomenon of ingested ice crystals in higher density Cirrus clouds overcoming the underrated heating protection capacity of Thales pitit tube, as suspected to have happened in the case of Air France flight 447. (See Aviation Safety Journal, ‘Documentary Covers Last Minutes of Air France Flight 447′)

 

Composite and Aluminum Wing Tank Flammability Comparison Testing:

The Being B787 with an all-composite structure has already made its first flight, yet the FAA is just now exploring the probability of explosive vapors in the fuel tanks of wings constructed of composite materials.

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First flight of the new all-composite B787.

Principal results and planned work were as follows:

“The bare composite (black) resulted in much higher temperatures, and therefore also higher flammability readings than the bare aluminum …”

“727 wing surge tank utilized in previous testing will be reskinned with composite material for further testing to be conducted this summer.”

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Boeing, meanwhile, will equip the B787 fuel tanks with an inerting system to minimize the likelihood of a fuel tank exploding.

 

Measuring Oxygen Concentration in a Fuel Tank Ullage:

“Ullage” is the space between the top of the fuel tank and the top of the fuel. This space contains fuel-air vapors, and with the right amount of oxygen (neither too rich not too lean) the vapors can explode if an ignition source is present.

Critical to assessing the explosiveness of the fuel-air mixture in the ullage space is the measurement of the oxygen concentration. The Tech Center has been evaluating an optical fluorescence probe.

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Results have been mixed, according to the FAA briefing:

“Small fiber optic probe uses spectrometer to interpret coherent light signal which is highly dependent on temperature/pressure.”

“Applying an in situ probe has been very problematic.”

“Not practical to calibrate on a daily basis.”

“Requires simultaneous/co-located accurate temperature and pressure measurement to compensate signal.”

What this all means is that providing a reading in the cockpit of fuel tank vulnerability to explosion (and hence the effectiveness of any inerting system) is vastly complicated.

The probe above is a second generation design. A third generation probe, in development, will include temperature, pressure, and oxygen fiber optics. New electronics will also replace the spectrometor.

 

Swissair 111: Sensors Could Have Made a Difference:

Subtitled “In-flight smoke/fire/fume events: the need for improved aircraft systems.” This presentation deals with the in-flight raging fire above the main cabin of Swissair flight 111 in 1998 and the subsequent loss of the airplane and all 229 persons on board at Halifax, Canada. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has issued numerous recommendations for improved fire detection and suppression, almost none of which have been implemented. (See Aviation Safety Journal, August 2008, ‘Twelve Years of Half Measures’)

This presentation argues that there have been other smoke/fire/fumes (SFF) events in the air but that “the issue of being able to identify, extinguish, and monitor a hidden fire has not been resolved.”

The presentation, by Captain H.G. “Boomer” Bombardi of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) goes on to say:

“Pilots still do not have system feedback regarding aircraft status during a SFF events.”

And…

“No FAA aircraft mandates for SFF detection, protection, monitoring systems.”

Bombardi could have added that today, more than a decade after the Swissair tragedy, the FAA has not published a requirement for either SFF detection in hidden spaces of the airplane or suppression in these areas. Thus, even though manufacturers are installing more electronics in hidden spaces of the airplane (e.g., cabin sidewalls), pilots will have nil capability for detecting or defeating electrical fires in these spaces. The modern jetliner is really a flying firetrap, where the crew’s only option is to “land immediately.” This may not always be possible. In the case of Swissair flight 111, about 18 minutes spanned the first notice of smoke to crashing in the water. One should note that even with a suitable airport immediately below an aircraft with an on-board fire, descending to land can take substantially more than 18 minutes.

 


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