Australian Transport Safety Bureau Calls for Helicopter Fuel System Changes

ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said despite a 20-year-old requirement for new helicopters to have a crash-resistant fuel system, several helicopter types are being made without one.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration and European regulators to require safety improvements in helicopter fuel tanks in the United States and Europe, in order to prevent helicopter fires. The recommendations stemmed from ATSB's investigation of a fatal Robinson R44 helicopter accident in New South Wales during March 2013 in which four people died. The helicopter was engulfed in fire after striking a tree and hitting the ground.

Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority and other international regulators then made it mandatory for R44 helicopter operators to replace the R44's all-aluminium fuel tank with a bladder-type fuel tank, which will reduce the risk of post‑impact fire in that model. But ATSB reported is remains concerned about the risk of post-impact fire in helicopters that are not fitted with crash-resistant fuel systems.

"We believe the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency can help improve the safety of many helicopter pilots and their passengers," said ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan. "We have issued safety recommendations to the FAA and EASA. We ask them to take action to increase the number of crash-resistant fuel systems fitted to existing and newly manufactured helicopters. Under international convention, we would expect to hear from the FAA and EASA about their proposed responses to these recommendations by early September 2015."

He said a statistical analysis of helicopter accidents in Australia and the United States during a 10-year period found a higher proportion of post-impact fires involving R44s than for other, similar helicopter types. The analysis showed that, despite a 20-year-old requirement for new helicopters to have a crash-resistant fuel system, several helicopter types are being made without one and, while modification kits are available for a number of helicopter types, they have not been incorporated into many of the existing civil helicopter fleet, Dolan said.

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