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FAA updates aircraft list, reopens comments on Piper wing spar AD

Thousands of aircraft may be culled from a list of up to 20,000 Piper single-engine airplanes potentially subject to an airworthiness directive proposed after the fatal crash of a training airplane in Florida in April 2018.

AOPA file photo of a Piper Arrow. Photo by Mike Fizer.

The FAA announced the AD’s applicability update and other revisions in a notice published June 3. The AD was first proposed in December 2018, calling for inspections of a wide range of Piper singles for main wing spar metal fatigue following the crash that killed the two occupants of a Piper PA–28R-201 after a wing separated from the airplane during a practical test for a commercial pilot certificate.

According to the supplemental notice, the AD’s applicability could be reduced by as many as 8,800 aircraft.“Based on airplane usage history, the FAA determined that only those airplanes with higher risk for fatigue cracks (airplanes with a significant history of operation in flight training or other high-load environments) should be subject to the inspection requirements,” it said.

Nine months after the FAA proposed the AD, the NTSB issued a report noting the probable cause of the April 4, 2018, accident as metal-fatigue cracking associated with flight training maneuvers and frequent landing cycles. 

AOPA, in initial comments on the AD, called on the FAA to scale back the list of affected airplanes and urged the agency to rethink the risks of ordering invasive inspections of numerous older aircraft. The NTSB also expressed concern to the FAA about the risks of ordering invasive inspections.

Whether an individual aircraft would have to undergo inspection would be determined according to a formula the FAA proposed that taps the aircraft’s logged maintenance records to calculate its time in service—a method that has raised many questions from aircraft operators. 

In the FAA’s supplemental proposal—which will be open for public comment until July 20—the FAA said it has adopted “more focused risk criteria using load data provided by Piper.” Reviewing the data led the agency to propose adding Piper models PA–32R-300, PA–32RT-300, and PA–32RT-300T to the list of applicable aircraft and removing five others (PA–28-140, PA–28-150, PA–28-160, PA–28-161, and PA–28-180) “for a net reduction of approximately 8,800 lower risk aircraft.”

In an extensive discussion of comments it received on the original AD proposal, the FAA acknowledged AOPA’s contention that the crash of the airplane operated by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was the “driving force” behind the AD, a fact that had not been mentioned in the FAA’s original 2018 notice of proposed rulemaking.

The updated AD proposal would no longer allow replacing a wing spar with a used part. Another new provision would replace a procedure mandated for an eddy-current inspection with the procedure set forth in a Piper service bulletin that was issued after the AD was proposed.

Members may submit comments until July 20 on the supplemental NPRM online or by mail to U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, Airworthiness, Accident

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