The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is recommending that all light aircraft be fitted with upper torso restraints after a fatal passenger charter flight accident raised accident survivability questions.
During the January 2017 accident, one passenger was fatally injured and two other passengers and the pilot were seriously injured when a Cessna 172 operating a passenger charter flight impacted a Queensland beach after its engine experienced a total power loss at low altitude (read more).
“The aircraft was not fitted with upper torso restraints for the rear passenger seats, which very likely increased the severity of the injuries sustained by the two rear-seat passengers,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood stated.
An upper torso restraint (UTR) is a shoulder strap or harness, and when fitted in addition to a lap belt makes an aircraft’s passenger restraint similar to a normal seat belt in a car. UTRs are not required for all passenger seats for small aeroplanes manufactured before December 1986 and helicopters manufactured before September 1992, including those used for passenger transport operations.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitment of upper torso restraints for all seats in small aeroplanes and helicopters.
Although options for retrofitting UTRs are available for a number of models of light aircraft, many of these aircraft manufactured before the applicable dates being used for passenger transport have not yet been retrofitted.
“As a consequence, the ATSB recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitment of upper torso restraints for all seats in small aeroplanes and helicopters,” Mr Hood said.
“The recommendation is particularly aimed at those aircraft being used for air transport operations, and where the aircraft manufacturer has issued a mandatory service bulletin to fit UTRs for all seats, or such restraints are readily available and relatively easy to install.”
The ATSB is also issuing a Safety Advisory Notice to all operators of small aircraft and helicopters.
“The ATSB strongly encourages operators and owners of small aeroplanes manufactured before December 1986 and helicopters manufactured before September 1992 to fit upper torso restraints to all seats in their aircraft, if they are not already fitted,” Mr Hood said
The investigation also highlights that there was no requirement for operators of passenger transport flights in aircraft with six or fewer seats to provide passengers with a verbal briefing, or written briefing material, on the brace position for an emergency landing or ditching, even for aircraft without upper torso restraints fitted to all passenger seats.
Further, the investigation also established that the operator did not routinely carry life jackets on its two Cessna 172 aircraft, despite Civil Aviation Order (CAO) 20.11 stating that life jackets are required for all charter flights when ‘in the event of a mishap occurring during the departure or the arrival it is reasonably possible that the aircraft would be forced to land onto water’.
“Accordingly, life jackets were required for the accident flight,” Mr Hood noted.
The report also found that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s procedures and guidance for scoping a surveillance event included several important aspects, but it did not formally include the nature of the operator’s activities, the inherent threats or hazards associated with those activities, and the risk controls that were important for managing those threats or hazards.
Read the ATSB's safety advisory notice: Upper torso restraints can reduce injuries and save lives. Are they fitted to all seats in your aircraft?