Why the ATSB did this research

Through routine trend monitoring of safety occurrence reporting, the ATSB became aware of a potential issue surrounding the frequency of light aircraft engine failures and malfunctions (both Australian VH and recreationally-registered). To formally and more fully examine the contributing factors behind these statistical observations, the ATSB initiated this Aviation Research investigation (under the provisions of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003).

What the ATSB found

Over the 6-year study period between 2009 and 2014, 322 engine failures or malfunctions involving light aircraft were reported to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and/or Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus). These reports involved single-engine piston aeroplanes up to 800 kg maximum take-off weight. Aircraft powered by Jabiru engines were involved in the most engine failures or malfunctions with 130 reported over the 6 years. This represents about one in ten aircraft powered by Jabiru engines in the study set having reported an engine failure or malfunction. Reports from Rotax powered aircraft were the next most common with 87 (one in 36), followed by aircraft with Lycoming (58 – one in 35) and Continental (28 – one in 35) engines. When factoring in the hours flown for each of these engine manufacturers, aircraft with Jabiru engines had more than double the rate of engine failure or malfunction than any other of the manufacturers in the study set with 3.21 failures per 10,000 hours flown.

Unlike the engines of other engine manufacturers in this study, nearly half of the Jabiru engine failures or malfunctions related to a fractured component. Engine through-bolt failures were the most commonly reported failure mechanism in Jabiru powered aircraft with 21 through-bolt fractures reported between 2009 and 2014. Taking into account the number of aircraft registered in the study period, through-bolt failures occurred in about one in 55 Jabiru powered aircraft. Although originally designed to be replaced after 1,000 hours, 19 through-bolts failed before the 1,000 hour mark, with seven failing before 500 hours. At least four failures involved engines with upgraded 3/8 inch diameter through-bolt nuts. There were no failures reported involving the newer 7/16 inch diameter through-bolts which are used in currently manufactured engines (present in about 20 per cent of Jabiru engines).

What's been done as a result

Jabiru Aircraft Pty Ltd have designed and tested a modified 3/8 inch diameter through-bolt which incorporates aspects to alleviate the effects of thermal expansion and damp resonant vibrations.

The ATSB has issued recommendations to Jabiru Aircraft Pty Ltd and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to reduce the risk of engine failure or malfunction in aircraft fitted with Jabiru engines and to assure future reliability of these engines.

Safety message

Owners and operators of light aircraft with Jabiru engines that have 3/8 inch diameter through-bolt configurations need to be aware of the continued elevated risk of a through-bolt failure leading to an engine failure or malfunction in flight. It appears that Jabiru engine service bulletins, requiring upgraded through-bolts of the same thickness and upgraded nuts to the 12-side ARP nuts, may not have fully addressed this issue. Thicker 7/16 inch through-bolts (installed in newly manufactured engines and recommended as a retro-fit for aircraft conducting flight training), appear to have improved the reliability of Jabiru engines, although future monitoring will provide more definite evidence.


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