The Australian Transport and Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief commissioner Martin Dolan has urged owners of 100 Robinson R44 to replace the aircraft’s aluminium fuel tanks with bladder tanks before they face grounding by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) at the end of April.
The ATSB recently released a preliminary investigation report into the fatal accident of a Robinson R44 at Bulli Tops in NSW. The R44 caught fire after striking a tree and hitting the ground during which the pilot and three passengers died.
In its report the ATSB highlighted the similarities of the low-energy impact accident with others involving R44 helicopters where their all-aluminium fuel tanks ruptured resulting in a fuel-fed fire. The post-impact fire effectively made surviving the accident impossible, the ATSB said.
Commissioner Dolan said: “Our advice in that report was clear: all-aluminium fuel tanks are dangerous and need to be replaced with improved bladder-type fuel tanks as soon as possible.
“The improved bladder tanks substantially reduce the risk of a post-impact fire – their fitment is a very important safety enhancement that could save lives,” Dolan added.
Robinson has previously issued a service bulletin requiring owners to replace the all-aluminium fuel tank with the bladder-type tank before April 30 2013. CASA has confirmed R44 helicopter owners are legally required to replace their fuel tanks before April 30.
Any aircraft that has not complied with the directive will be grounded.
“Despite this, we remain concerned that up to 100 R44 helicopters in Australia are still at an elevated risk of post-impact fire after an accident because their fuel tanks will not have been retrofitted with the bladder tanks by 30 April 2013,” Dolan said.
“This is an issue that needs to be taken extremely seriously. The improved bladder tanks substantially reduce the risk of a post-impact fire—their fitment is a very important safety enhancement that could save lives.”