The US Federal Aviation Administration has implemented a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) mandating new pilot training, experience and operating requirements for Mitsubishi MU-2B flightcrew, to improve the type's safety record.

The high-wing twin-turboprop, of which about 400 are still in service globally, was last produced in 1984. An FAA safety review concluded two years ago that the quickest way to address the issues raised by a cluster of US MU-2B accidents in 2004/5 was to enact a SFAR.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America (MHIA), which is responsible for supporting the MU-2B, has said all along that it supports the FAA move.

The agency explains: "The final rule mandates a comprehensive standardised pilot training programme for the MU-2B. The regulation requires use of a standardised cockpit checklist and the latest revision of the Airplane Flight Manual. MU-2B operators also must have a working autopilot onboard, except in certain limited circumstances. Owners and operators must comply with the SFAR within a year."

FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nick Sabatini explains the rationale for action: "The FAA studies enormous amounts of data looking for trends," he says. "When we saw the rising accident rate for the MU-2B, we decided to take appropriate actions to bring the plane up to an acceptable level of safety." The type is a complex aircraft that has "unique flight characteristics", says the FAA.

The training programme was developed by MHIA with the FAA, and in the USA it will affect mostly Part 135 operators flying about 60 MU-2Bs, primarily in cargo operations. The company explains how it believes the situation arose: "The aircraft can be bought inexpensively, but some owners will not spend the money to get training or to go authorised maintenance centres."

Accidents involving US-registered Mitsubishi Mu-2Bs include:

25 June 2006.
A Mitsubishi Mu-2 twin turboprop came down soon after taking off from St Lucie airport, Florida. The pilot, a professional with an instructor rating who had filed an instrument flight rules flightplan to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the only person on board. He was killed and the aircraft was destroyed by fire.

4 August 2005.
A Mitsubishi MU-2B air-taxi aircraft crashed into terrain during a night instrument landing system (ILS) approach at Centennial airport, Denver, Colorado. The pilot, alone on the aircraft, appeared to be preoccupied because he did not respond to all the controllers' calls, two of which warned he was too low. He died in the impact.

10 December 2004.
The pilot of a Mitsubishi MU-2B, soon after take-off for an air-taxi flight, reported he was shutting down an engine and returning to Centennial airport, Denver, Colorado. While manoeuvring to return, the pilot appears to have lost control of the aircraft, and both he and the pilot-rated passenger were killed.  

Source: Flight International