NTSB slams FAA for air taxi lapses

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Report on 2005 Challenger 600 accident blames US authority's Birmingham, Alabama office for oversight failure

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has lambasted the Federal Aviation Administration for the second time in the past 12 months for its failure to exercise safety oversight in the Part 135 "air taxi"on-demand charter sector (Flight International, 15-21 August ).

This time the occasion was a public hearing adopting the final report on the 2 February 2005 accident to a Platinum Jet Management (PJM) Bombardier Challenger 600 at Teterboro airport, New Jersey, which destroyed the aircraft when it ploughed across a six-lane highway into buildings after a failed take-off attempt.

The primary cause of the accident, says the NTSB, was the failure of the flightcrew to "appropriately determine the airplane's weight and balance characteristics for take-off", resulting in a forward centre of gravity that prevented the aircraft from rotating successfully. There were no fatalities. But this, says the NTSB, was not a one-off failure.

The aircraft was flying under the operating certificate of Darby Aviation, and the agency is critical of Platinum crew procedures. "PJM pilots routinely improperly modified airplanes' weight and balance forms, using a variety of invalid airplane empty weights to ensure that the form indicated that the airplane was operating within its limitations," the agency says. It says there was an oversight failure by the FAA's Birmingham, Alabama office: "Although FAA personnel reviewed Darby's record, they did not ensure that PJM's airplanes were operated and maintained in accordance with Darby's company requirements, or that charter trips flown by PJM were controlled by Darby."

The NTSB had drawn similar conclusions about oversight and the chaotic regulatory framework for this sector in its report on the November 2004 icing-related Challenger 601 fatal crash during take-off at Montrose, Colorado. The NTSB said the chartered aircraft "was registered to Hop-a-Jet, and operated by Air Castle doing business as Global Aviation Glo-Air Flight 73", and the client did not know which company was responsible for conduct of the service.