Mar. 11, 2004 - AOPA and the T-34 Association are working together in a concerted effort to prevent the grounding of virtually the entire fleet of Beech T-34s on March 15. That's when a revised airworthiness directive goes into effect.
That AD rescinds all four approved alternate methods of compliance (AMOCs) and requires all T-34s that have accumulated 80 hours time in service since the original AD was issued in August 2001 to comply with Raytheon Service Bulletin SB57-3329 for additional inspections.
"We don't have hard numbers yet, but it appears that a very high percentage of T-34s will be grounded," said AOPA Director of Regulatory and Certification Affairs Luis Gutierrez. "The few shops that are authorized to do the necessary work are already backlogged. These backlogs could lead to significant delays in scheduling and extended down time for aircraft owners."
In 1999 a T-34 engaged in mock aerial combat crashed; the resulting examination revealed fatigue cracks at multiple locations in the wings of the accident aircraft. As an interim fix, the FAA issued an AD instating airspeed and G-load limitations while Raytheon developed a "mandatory" service bulletin to inspect the critical fatigue locations. In 2001 FAA finalized the AD mandating wing-spar inspections and approved four AMOCs to address fatigue concerns. Then in November 2003, a second T-34 crashed after experiencing a separation of the right wing causing two fatalities. In both cases, the wing separated at the same location, with the exception that the second aircraft had an additional separation point at the lower wing attach fitting not inspected in any of the AMOCs issued for the original AD.
All T-34s, even if they had complied with the earlier AD by using one of the four AMOCs, are required to comply with the new airworthiness directive. In a conference call on Monday with AOPA and the T-34 Association, the FAA indicated that it will work closely with current AMOC holders to address the new inspections areas and reissue the AMOCs. The issue that will impact most owners is that of scheduling. Shops have already reported a year's worth of backlogs for the original AMOCs, and now completed aircraft must return for the updated AMOC.
AOPA and the T-34 Association continue to discuss with the FAA options to try to find alternatives such as speed and load limitations that would allow the fleet to continue flying until each individual aircraft can be brought into compliance. Those discussions continue, but the FAA's insistence that corrective action be taken immediately does not offer much hope of preventing the impending grounding of the fleet before Monday's effective date.