R44 helicopters with all-aluminium fuel tanks have proven susceptible to post-accident fuel leaks increasing the risk of a potentially fatal post-impact fire following a collision with terrain.
What can you do?
The manufacturer has issued a Service Bulletin SB-78B requiring R44 helicopters with all-aluminium fuel tanks be retrofitted with bladder-type tanks as soon as practical, but no later than 30 April 2013.
The ATSB urges all operators and owners of R44 helicopters fitted with all-aluminium fuel tanks to replace these tanks with bladder-type fuel tanks as detailed in the manufacturer's Service Bulletin 78B as soon as possible.
The fitment of bladder-type fuel tanks to R44 helicopters is a very important safety enhancement that could save lives. The ATSB has also suggested that regulators and investigation agencies in other countries consider what steps they can take to increase compliance with the manufacturer’s safety bulletin.
The ATSB issued a Safety Advisory Notice on 9 March 2012, advising of the potential dangers of the all-aluminum fuel tank.
As part of its preliminary report release on a fatal R44 accident at Bulli Tops in NSW, the ATSB issued a Safety Recommendation to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on 5 April 2013. The ATSB recommended CASA take further action to ensure R44 helicopter operators are aware of regulatory requirements for retrofitting the fuel tank with the bladder-type tank.
In response CASA issued an Airworthiness Bulletin to ensure that all owners, operators and maintainers are aware of the requirements to comply with the manufacturer’s service bulletins.
The ATSB also highlights Service Bulletin SB-82 that aims to reduce the chance that the rotor brake switch will act as a possible ignition source in the event of a fuel leak.
Three fatal helicopter accidents also illustrate the potential danger:
Last update 23 November 2018
- Loss of control - Robinson R44 helicopter, VH-HFH, Cessnock Aerodrome, NSW, 4 February 2011
- Collision with terrain - Robinson R44, VH-COK, Jaspers Brush, NSW, 4 February 2012
- Collision with terrain involving Robinson R44 helicopter, VH-HWQ at Bulli Tops, near Wollongong NSW on 21 March 2013