Following a rash of fatal accidents, the US Federal Aviation Administration has established new rules governing special training and experience requirements for pilots flying the Robinson R22 and R44 light piston-engined helicopters.

The Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) seeks to improve pilot reaction to emergency situations, and results from the high number of R22 and R44 accidents caused by either low-RPM rotor stall or mast bumping.

"The FAA has determined that prompt action regarding these helicopters is necessary and specific training and experience requirements are required for their continued safe operation," says David Hinson, head of the aviation agency.

In January, the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) urgently recommended that the FAA ground the two-seat R22 and four-seat R44 until the cause of the crashes is determined and modifications are made.

The board also urged that strict limitations be placed on the rotorcraft. Soon after, the FAA issued a highly restrictive airworthiness directive (AD) in an effort to prevent further accidents.

The SFAR affects students, rated pilots and certificated flight instructors (CFIs), and involves ground and flight training. Pilots with 200 helicopter flight hours (including at least 50 hours in either the R22 or R44) are exempt. Students and rated pilots lacking the required flight time must now be taught how to react to mast-bumping, blade stall, low-g hazards and rotor RPM decay.

In addition, R22 and R44 pilots-in-command without the necessary cockpit time must complete an annual flight review, which covers abnormal and emergency procedures. CFIs must also take the additional instruction and be proficient in teaching students of potential hazards.

The FAA believes that the AD and the new training rules will help bring down the accident rate. Meanwhile, the aviation agency is continuing its engineering and design review of the helicopters and their operation, as well as evaluating potential aircraft design improvements.

Since certification in 1979, the R22 has been involved in 339 accidents in the USA alone. There are now 855 registered R22s and three R44s being operated in US airspace.

Source: Flight International