The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is poised to become the first airworthiness body to ban older versions of Robinson Helicopter R22 rotor blades, linked to fatal accidents in Australasia and Israel.

EASA will publish an airworthiness directive (AD) as early as this week requiring operators to remove and ban -2 blades and replace them with newer -4 blades, as used on the four-seat R44. The move goes further than the US Federal Aviation Administration's AD issued in June last year, which reduced the life of the older-generation blades.

Robinson has already begun a blade replacement programme, offering the -4 blades at discounts of over 75% to most operators, detailed in a service bulletin issued in December. The European AD makes the bulletin compulsory, with July and December deadlines set for compliance depending on airframe age. Robinson vice-president for product support Kurt Robinson says the bulletin is a de facto ban in the USA as well, as operators will struggle to find insurance if they do not comply with manufacturer recommendations.

The EASA ban comes in the wake of evidence from Australian and Israeli accident investigators linking some crashes with fatigue cracks caused by internal corrosion of the blades (Flight International, 2-9 November 2004). Australia is home to a significant proportion of the non-US Robinson fleet, where the helicopter is used for agricultural work in hot and humid conditions. David Villiers, the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority's (CASA) head of airframe continuing airworthiness, says the body had also considered banning the older blades after reviewing the accident report from a June 2003 Sydney crash, but bowed instead to the FAA's advice.

Meanwhile, CASA is likely to mandate the fitting of tamper-proof time recorders on helicopters below 3,000kg (6,600lb) to eliminate the practice of over-hours flying, a factor in R22 crashes in Australia and New Zealand.


Source: Flight International