Accident Report Reveals Issues With The Aircraft's Design and Components That Were Known 30 Years Ago
A leading aviation law expert has called for further measures to improve the safety of Piper aircraft after reports into an accident in which a plane crashed into two houses soon after takeoff revealed a striking similarity with previous incidents.
Jim Morris, a Partner in the Aviation law team at Irwin Mitchell and a former RAF pilot, says the set of circumstances leading up to the crash, killing the pilot and leaving his teenage passenger critically ill, are almost identical to a previous crash in the USA 12 years ago and the accident report highlights issues with the aircraft that have previously been raised as a concern as long as 30 years ago.
The light aircraft took off as normal from Barton Aerodrome but lost power almost immediately and fell from the sky into a two semi-detached houses in Peel Green, Eccles, Salford, last July.
A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) into the crash involving a two-seater Piper PA-38 Tomahawk aircraft revealed that a problem with the fuel selector valve was most likely to blame for the engine losing power at just 200ft, making a crash almost inevitable.
The report found that the pilot had carried out the appropriate pre-flight safety checks and takeoff but, as the fuel selector valve was faulty, he unknowingly took off with only 36 seconds of fuel available.
Due to the aerodynamic stalling characteristics of the aircraft - the situation where the airflow over the wings becomes too slow to provide lift - when the engine stopped he only had three seconds to lower the nose and prevent a catastrophic wing stall. Unfortunately the pilot was unable to prevent the stall meaning that he could not stop the aircraft from plunging into the housing estate below.
In 1982 the manufacturers issued a safety notice following problems with the fuel selector valve requiring it to be inspected every 400 hours. In 1994 the American aviation safety authorities raised concerns about the aerodynamic stalling characteristics of the aircraft following a number of fatal accidents.
Jim Morris from Irwin Mitchell said: “The known issues with the design of this aircraft raise serious concerns. Had the fuel selector valve and stall characteristics of the aircraft been modified, this and other similar accidents may have been prevented. In fact, the AAIB referred to a similar incident in July 2000, when a PA-38 lost power and crashed due to a problem with the fuel selector valve.
“The aviation authorities need to look very closely at the fuel valve and aerodynamic stall issues with this aircraft type and determine what further measures or modifications should be adopted to prevent another similar tragedy in future.”
Jim continued: “It is very sad that the characteristics involved in this accident are not unique and follow the pattern of previous incidents involving this type of plane. The most important aspect of aviation accident investigations is to identify the cause(s) so that lessons can be learned and flight safety improved. Unfortunately, the knowledge learned from previous accidents did not prevent this crash in Salford. It is clear that more needs to be done to protect the safety of the pilots, passengers and people on the ground.”