EASA tightens check-flight rules after Perpignan crash

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Tighter controls over maintenance check flights are being outlined in a new European safety proposal aimed at cutting the accident risk to flights conducted outside of normal operations.

The fatal loss of an Airbus A320 off the Perpignan coast, during a botched handover test flight in November 2008, highlighted a lack of regulation covering such non-revenue services.

All seven occupants on the XL Airways jet, which was being transferred off-lease to Air New Zealand, were killed after the crew lost control while attempting a high-attitude test without proper preparation.

In a notice of proposed amendment the European Aviation Safety Agency says there is "no guidance material" to identify when, or how, check flights should be performed.

"Various accidents and serious incidents have occurred when aircraft were being flown for reasons other than their normal operation," it adds. "In these cases the aircraft may be operated outside the rules applicable for a standard operation."

EASA says that, without additional precautions, such flights "may not be safe". Its proposal is designed to set out minimum crew proficiency and specific requirements on procedures, test schedules and briefings.

It has drawn up a new regulation specifically covering non-routine maintenance check flights - designated 'Level B' operations - requiring operators to have a written flight programme.

Captains will need a test-pilot rating or at least 1,000h in command of a similar aircraft, with additional training, and will need to have commanded a check flight within the preceding two years to stay current.

Training courses for Level B must have a detailed syllabus and meet specific simulator and check-flight criteria. The proposal also recommends that a task specialist be present in the cockpit to assist the pilots.

EASA has reinforced its concern by citing the case of an EasyJet Boeing 737-700 which, two months after the Perpignan A320 crash, suffered a pitch-down movement and rapid descent during a check flight. The UK investigation into the incident similarly revealed weak regulations.

Comments on the new regulation are being invited until 30 October.