Monday, November 16, 2009

FAA Recommendation: Ground All Zodiacs!

The hubbub continues to brew around airworthiness concerns for the AMD Zodiac 601 and it's sibling 650 model. Scroll down this page for background on the story.
Spicing up worries over Zodiac airworthiness comes news of a potential conflict between NTSB and FAA regarding what level of action the fedgov should have taken - months ago.
For the first time ever, FAA ordered no new airworthiness certificates will be issued for the entire fleet of Zodiac CH-601XL series aircraft until safety mods are installed.
Friday: NTSB, in an advisory news release, reported yet another Zodiac in-flight break-up - and fatality. The Board took the opportunity to remind us that it had urgently recommended to FAA - back in April 2009 - that it ground the design, after numerous crashes and fatalities, until the problem was effectively addressed by the manufacturers (AMD for SLSA, Zenith for kits).
FAA had already implemented, last week in its Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB CE-10-08 - see blog entry below) a de facto grounding of those aircraft not in compliance with modifications put out by AMD, to resolve aerodynamic flutter and other related concerns.
But: FAA’s action only addressed manufactured versions not in compliance with the mods. It did not include experimentally-built versions, of which there are hundreds out there flying or being built. Only voluntary grounding of homebuilts was advised by FAA and Zenith.
The Kicker: this latest Zodiac crash was indeed a homebuilt version of the troubled design. NTSB in its release seems to be saying, “Told you so - now please do something about it!”
FAA’s position in April was that there was insufficient justification to ground the entire fleet.
Another Zodiac pilot is dead. The obvious question: Could that life have been saved by sterner FAA intervention last Spring?
Meanwhile, Zenith , FAA and EAA now recommend - but still do not require - that all Zodiac CH-650 and CH-601XL aircraft remain grounded until mods are effected.
If no stronger directive is forthcoming, "It can't happen to me" types might not make the mods, keep flying, and pay the ultimate price.
If ever there was a time for mandatory grounding, wouldn't this be that time?
Again I ask the question - what precisely is the rationale for not installing parachutes in every LSA - or GA aircraft for that matter - when available?
How many of the dozen or so Zodiac deaths around the world this last year might have been prevented if ballistic 'chutes had been aboard?
No way to know.
But when it comes time for you to make that call, picture this equation:
the grieving faces of your loved ones vs. whatever small gain in performance you get by not carrying a chute.
I rest my case.
---photo of Zodiac courtesy of Zenith

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