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Significant Regulatory Activity

Wed, Jan 27, 2010 — Admin

Regulatory Oversight

7 January 2010

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

49 CFR Part 830

Final Rule, New Accident/Incident Reporting Rules

(Full title: Notification and Reporting of Aircraft Accidents or Incidents and Overdue Aircraft, and Preservation of Aircraft Wreckage, Mail, Cargo, and Records)

[Note: This final rule includes helicopters.]

This final action completes a rulemaking activity begun 27 December 2004 to update and rationalize the reporting of aircraft accidents and incidents to the NTSB. Although numerous comments on the proposed rulemaking were submitted by industry, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had no comments – yet it is directly affected by the NTSB action and has reporting requirements of its own. Partly as a result of the failure of the FAA to comment, this final rule perpetuates some disconnects between what operators must report to the NTSB and what they are required to report to the FAA. As a consequence, the FAA and NTSB databases will differ.

This is on top of the trend (or habit) within the FAA to discuss fatal accidents only, whereas the NTSB discusses fatal accidents, non-fatal accidents and non-fatal incidents in its public pronouncements about the state of aviation safety.

This final rule codifies the addition of six reportable incidents, which the NTSB believes are necessary to plug gaps in the existing data base.

Operators will now be required to report the following:

 

1. The failure of any internal turbine engine component that results in the escape of debris other than out the exhaust path. This will therefore cover those cases of an uncontained failure, which can punch through the protective walls around an engine and penetrate vital components in the wing and/or fuselage.

In its comment, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) noted there is “already” a requirement to report to the FAA: “GAMA would propose a reporting system between the FAA and the NTSB that would alert both agencies when one of the reportable events occurs.

The NTSB disagreed, noting that “a report to the FAA is not required if the event has been reported to the NTSB.” This phrase seems to be backward, and would better read, “a report to the NTSB is not required if the event has been reported to the FAA.” This wording would make the following sentence in the final rule more logical: “[A] notification system … that initially reports failures to the FAA presents an unacceptable delay in the notification to the NTSB and the initiation of a response.”

Queried about this disputation, an NTSB official said, “We need to know initially.” Still, GAMA seems to be making a reasonable point.

 

2. The release of all or a portion of a propeller blade. This failure does not include contact solely with the ground, which may cause propeller breakage. The intent here is to capture those propeller failures resulting from metal fatigue, mechanical failure and other factors associated with the propeller and its associated control mechanisms. It is understood that ground contact would cause the propeller to break off, and the NTSB is not interested in those cases.

The NTSB explained its rationale thusly: “Propeller blades are designed and certified to operate within the atmosphere and, as such, the expectation is that they remain intact and in place during normal operation. Propeller blades are not designed or expected to continue to remain intact and in place following contact with the ground.”

 

3. A complete loss of information, including flickering, from more than 50% of an aircraft’s cockpit displays. This information includes that shown on Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) displays, Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) displays, Electronic Centralized Aircraft Monitor (ECAM) displays, or (here’s a nice catch-all) other such displays.

The NTSB has investigated cases where the electronic instrument displays have gone blank, and this reporting proviso is intended to capture such events for the databases.

It is not entirely clear how the 50% rule was derived, other than perhaps to capture those events where either the captain or first officer’s displays go blank. However, there are cases where both the captain’s and the first officer’s ADI (attitude director indicator) go blank. It matters which 50% is lost, but the ruling as it reads right now may be as far as the NTSB can go, as it has been modified to spell out loss of ELIS, EICAM and ECAM displays. This is more specific than the original proposal.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) wrote that the term “flickering” was too subjective: “Does the NTSB consider one ‘flicker’ acceptable, but constant ‘flickering’ unacceptable, and therefore reportable?”

The NTSB replied, “If the ‘flickering’ becomes so severe that the display is unusable, then it should be reported … (providing that over 50% of the displays were similarly unusable).”

 

4. Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS) resolution advisories issued by the system either (a) when an aircraft is being operated on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan and compliance with the advisory is necessary to avert a substantial risk of a mid-air collision between two or more aircraft, or (b) to an aircraft operating in Class A airspace.

Despite numerous comments that this would impose a burdensome reporting requirement, the NTSB stuck to its guns, modifying the original proposed language slightly, but basically saying airplanes under IFR or Class A airspace should report near mid-air collisions. The NTSB said it never intended to require reporting “where no substantial risk of collision exists.”

 

5. Damage to helicopter tail or main rotor blades, including ground damage, that requires major repair or replacement of the blades.

No public comments were lodged on this new reporting requirement. It will be implemented as originally proposed.

 

6. Any event in which an aircraft operated by an air carrier (airline) lands or departs on a taxiway (yes, this has happened), incorrect runway (ditto), or other area not designated as a runway. In addition, runway incursions must be reported in which the operator or crew of another vehicle or aircraft must take immediate corrective action to avoid a collision.

This final language was adopted in apparent response to the ALPA recommendation: “Experiences a reduction in separation between another aircraft and/or ground vehicle that requires immediate corrective action, excluding a go-around.”

 

The new reporting requirements take effect 8 March 2010. Thus, it will take six years from the first notice of proposed rulemaking to effect changes the NTSB considers essential – and differences still remain with the FAA.

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