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Bladder-type fuel tank retrofit

Issue number: AO-2011-016-SI-02
Who it affects: Owners and operators of Robinson Helicopters
Issue owner: Robinson Helicopter Company
Operation affected: Aviation: General aviation
Background: Investigation Report AO-2011-016
Date: 30 April 2012

Safety issue description

A significant number of R44 helicopters, including VH-HFH, were not fitted with bladder-type fuel tanks and the other modifications detailed in the manufacturer's service bulletin 78 that were designed to provide improved resistance to post-impact fuel leaks.

Proactive Action

Action organisation: Robinson Helicopter Company
Action number: AO-2011-016-NSA-012
Date: 30 April 2012
Action status: Closed

In response to the collision with terrain that occurred at Jaspers Brush, New South Wales on 4 February 2012, the helicopter manufacturer released Service Bulletin 78A (SB-78A) on 21 February 2012. This bulletin brought forward the date of compliance as stated in the earlier Service Bulletin 78 from 31 December 2014 to 31 December 2013.

In addition, the manufacturer has advised that, in conjunction with the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the manufacturer is examining other methods to ensure greater compliance with that upgrade. This examination will take into account the rate at which the bladder-type fuel tanks, and the other associated components, are able to be manufactured. In respect of the rate of production of the bladder-type tanks, the manufacturer advised that they were:

...also in the process of acquiring FAA certification for an additional manufacturer of the bladder type tanks to increase the availability of the upgraded tanks.

The issue of an Airworthiness Directive is being considered.

Also on 21 February 2012, the manufacturer released Service Bulletin 82 that required the replacement of the rotor brake switch to reduce the chance of a possible ignition source in the event of a fuel leak.

 

ATSB response:

The ATSB is satisfied that the action taken by helicopter manufacturer will, when completed, adequately address the safety issue.

   
Current issue status: Adequately addressed
Status justification:

There are insufficient bladder-type fuel tanks available to immediately retrofit all the R44s currently fitted with all-aluminium tanks. An immediate grounding would result in extensive on-ground delays while the kits were manufactured. RHC's action to increase production of the bladder tanks and reduce the time period to have the all-aluminium tanks replaced was considered an acceptable response to the safety issue. The residual risk remains significant however the 31 December 2013 deadline for retrofitting of the bladder tanks will see this risk reduce over time.

 
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Last update 17 July 2014