An Airbus schematic of CRFS solutions for its H125 and H130 fleets (Airbus Photo)
Representatives of "Save Our Crews," a grass-roots helicopter safety group, met with Colorado's congressional delegation this week to press for the passage of legislation that would facilitate retrofitting crash-resistant fuel systems (CRFS) on in-service helicopters type certified before 1994.
Karen Mahany founded the group after her husband, Patrick, an air ambulance pilot, was killed in a July 2015 crash of a Flight for Life AS350 helicopter air ambulance in Frisco, Colo. The crash seriously injured one flight nurse, and severely disfigured Dave Repsher, another flight nurse. Last year, Airbus and Air Methods Corp. reached a $100 million settlement with Repsher’s family.
Mahany and Repsher and his wife, Amanda, met this week with Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, both of Colorado, and Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo.
Inspired by the 2015 Flight for Life crash in Colorado, Perlmutter and freshman Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., this year re-introduced the Safe Helicopters Now Act, H.R. 675, to give a 10 percent tax credit to helicopter builders who retrofit their existing fleets of emergency medical services helicopters with CRFS.
The legislation is before the House Ways and Means Committee.
No senator has introduced similar legislation yet, but Mahany said Gardner told her this week that he is interested in possibly sponsoring such a measure.
The FAA Re-Authorization Act of 2018, P.L. 115-254, requires all newly-manufactured helicopters, including those type certified before 1994, to have crash-resistant fuel systems, and the FAA said it is working with industry to help helicopter companies comply with the legislation.
Part 44737 of the law gives helicopter manufacturers until April 5 next year to comply with the inclusion of the systems on all newly built helicopters and stipulates that the FAA administrator “will expedite the certification and validation of United States and foreign type designs and retrofit kits that improve fuel system crash-worthiness; and not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this section, and periodically thereafter, issue a bulletin to inform rotorcraft owners and operators of available modifications to improve fuel system crash-worthiness; and urge that such modifications be installed as soon as practicable.”
Last year, the FAA Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group (ROPWG) — formed in November, 2015 after the Frisco, Colorado, crash and chaired by crash worthiness expert Dennis Shanahan — advised the FAA to require retrofits within five years on all helicopters, including those type certified before 1994.
The ROPWG also advised the FAA to require upper-torso restraints on all helicopters and proper restraints for all passengers, including children.
Save Our Crews is recommending that congressional legislation include a higher tax credit than that in H.R. 675. The group wants a 30 percent tax credit provision for companies whose helicopters — newly made or retrofitted — have CRFS, safe seats and restraints, crash and fire resistant flight recorders, and Terrain Avoidance Warning Systems.
Some safety observers are concerned that the FAA reauthorization law does not require CRFS retrofits. For its part, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that the FAA mandate crash-resistant fuel systems for all civil rotorcraft. Such systems have been in place on U.S. military rotorcraft for decades.
“The FAA Aircraft Certification Service reviewed the ROPWG’s recommendations for newly manufactured and existing fleet rotorcraft, and is developing a plan to address them,” the agency said earlier this year. “In the interim, the FAA is working with companies to help them meet the requirements of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act.”
Last December, the FAA updated Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin, SW-17-31R1, to notify all registered helicopter owners and operators of helicopter models that fully or partially meet Part 27 and 29 CRFS standards.
Those helicopter models that are fully compliant with the CRFS standards include the Airbus EC120B, EC130T2, EC135, the MBB-BK 117 C-2, MBB-BK 117 D-2, the EC130B4, and AS350Bs, the Bell 427, 429, and 505, the Helicopteres Guimbal CABRI G2, the Leonardo A109S, AW109S, AB139 and AW139, AW169, AW189, the MDHI 600N, the Robinson Helicopters’ R66, and the Sikorsky S-92A.
The Bell 407 is partially complaint with the CRFS standards, according to the FAA.
Airbus and Sikorsky have not wholly agreed with the FAA Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group that advised the FAA to require retrofits within five years. Airbus said the FAA should “strongly recommend, rather than require,” the installation of crash-resistant fuel bladders meeting the 50 foot drop test and 250 pound puncture resistance requirements, while Sikorsky said the working group “has not demonstrated the basis of the recommendation to retrofit CRFS into Part 29 aircraft” and that the company “would rather the [working group] recommend, not require, CRFS be retrofitted in Part 29 Transport Category aircraft.”
Airbus developed its own CRFS and wants the European Aviation Safety Agency to certify the system for some 1,500 AS350B3s and 400 EC130B4s — both certified before 1994 — by the end of this year. FAA certification could come shortly thereafter, Airbus has said. The AS350B3s and the EC130B4s currently are equipped with a CRFS certified by the FAA and EASA and manufactured by StandardAero and Robertson Fuel Systems. The Airbus-made CRFS is designed for H125s, and Airbus has said its customers can choose between the Airbus-made CRFS or the StandardAero/Robertson Fuel Systems-built CRFS. Airbus said it's offering its system at cost, for $44,000.
Cost has been a concern for companies in choosing whether to install CRFS, which can reach between $100,000 and $120,000, excluding labor.