The U.S. FAA has extended the special federal rule prescribing training requirements for instructors and operators of Robinson Helicopters’ R22s and R44s.
Known as the "Robinson SFAR," Special Federal Aviation Regulation 73 took effect in 1995 to address safety concerns about the operation of those aircraft by inexperienced pilots. It imposes training requirements beyond the general ones stipulated in FAR Part 61. SFAR 73 has been credited with eliminating accidents and improving the safety records of both aircraft.
The rule requires special awareness training covering energy management, mast bumping, low rotor rpm/blade stall, low-g hazards and rotor rpm decay. It also restricts pilots in command of the R22 or R44 to those with at least 200 hr in helicopters, with at least 50 of them in the respective aircraft, and at least 10 hr dual instruction in that aircraft. It also requires an annual flight review in the aircraft.
But the rule expired March 31, 2008. Robinson has in the past asked the FAA to impose the training requirements through adoption of an airworthiness directive (AD). But agency officials say ADs are intended to correct airframe, engine or systems problems, not training or flight-operations issues. The FAA extended SFAR 73 to June 30, 2009 after a review of 100 R22 accidents between 2005 and 2008 revealed none involving mast bumping, low rotor rpm or low-g conditions.
"The FAA believes that the training has been effective," read the official decision extending the rule.
"We feel safety is priority number one," said Kurt Robinson, Robinson vice president. "Accidents have been reduced since the SFAR was implemented." The company would like an additional review to determine if the SFAR is still necessary, especially for the more stable R44. — Ernie Stephens contributed to this report