Up to 100 Australian-operated Robinson R44 helicopters could be grounded by the end of the month if owners fail to comply with recommendations to replace fire-prone fuel tanks.
An inquiry by the ATSB released today blamed the all-aluminum fuel tanks for the deaths of four retired CSIRO scientists following a low-impact helicopter crash south of Sydney last month.
The ATSB report said the helicopter in which the men were traveling clipped a tree as it took off, causing it to hit the ground and tip over. “A fire started on the grass under the rotor mast and the cabin,” the report said. “The pilot and the three passengers were fatally injured.”
The incident follows two other fatal crashes the ATSB described as low intensity incidents in which the aluminum fuel tanks were breached, resulting in a fuel-fed fire.
The R44’s American manufacturer issued a warning about the fuel tanks in 2010, recommending they be replaced. That warning was reissued last year with a deadline for replacement by the end of this month.
CASA has estimated that roughly one quarter of the 400 R44s in use in Australia have had the tanks replaced, with another 200 in the process of being upgraded. That leaves about 100 helicopters that could be grounded.