Aviation safety issues and actions

Requirements for upper torso restraints in small aircraft

Issue number: AO-2017-005-SI-06
Who it affects: All aircraft owners, operators, pilots and passengers of small aircraft without upper torso restraints for all passenger seats.
Issue owner: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Operation affected: Aviation: Air transport
Background: Investigation Report AO-2017-005
Date: 17 October 2019

Safety issue description

Upper torso restraints (UTRs) were not required for all passenger seats for small aeroplanes manufactured before December 1986 and helicopters manufactured before September 1992, including for passenger transport operations. Although options for retrofitting UTRs are available for many models of small aircraft, many of these aircraft manufactured before the applicable dates that are being used for passenger transport have not yet been retrofitted.

Response by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority:

In August 2019, in response to the draft ATSB report, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority stated:

CASA agrees with the ATSB’s observations regarding UTR’s for small aircraft in general terms and that some of pre 1986 small aircraft used in passenger transport or aerial work have not been retrofitted. Without accurate data CASA could not confirm that ‘most’ aircraft used in passenger transport have not been retrofitted with UTR’s nor can CASA verify the percentage of the fleet of these aircraft used in passenger transport…

CASA notes that retrofitting is available at the discretion of the aircraft owner.

Operators with a robust Safety Management System would be expected to critically analyse the hazards presented by impact forces and provide appropriate mitigators which may include the fitment of UTRs, or other appropriate modifications and detailed briefings on brace positions. Moreover, CASA observes that while Australia has an aging fleet, the number of aircraft predating the fitment of UTR’s will decrease over time. For the absence of ambiguity, CASA (like many other regulators globally) does not intend to mandate the retro fitment of UTR’s in small aircraft. The ATSB has mechanisms such as Safety Advisory Notices to put forward its views on the efficacy of UTRs including, if it desires, affirmative advice to CASA that the ATSB recommend that CASA mandate their fitment.

ATSB comment:

The ATSB notes that:

  • CASA has stated that it will not be mandating the retrofitting of UTRs in non-front row seats of small aeroplanes manufactured before December 1986 and helicopters manufactured before September 1992.
  • CASA’s response is consistent with other regulatory agencies around the world, despite the substantial evidence to demonstrate the benefits of UTRs and many previous recommendations made by investigation agencies.
  • CASA will be mandating that operators of air transport flights in small aeroplanes will be required to provide briefings to passengers about the brace position (see the safety action for safety issue AO-2017-005-SI-07). However, although such action is necessary and of significant benefit, it will not be as effective as UTRs for minimising the risk of injury during an impact.
  • The proportion of the Australian fleet of small aircraft that was manufactured with UTRs for all seats is gradually increasing. However, there are still many aircraft in use that were manufactured before the applicable dates.
  • Aircraft manufacturers have issued mandatory services bulletins for retrofitting UTRs in many models of small aeroplanes and helicopters, but aircraft owner's and operators are generally not required to comply with such bulletins.
  • Most of the older aircraft have not been retrofitted with UTRs. In addition, there has been no safety education activity in Australia in many years to encourage aircraft operators and owners to fit their older aircraft with UTRs, even though they are available and relatively inexpensive to fit for many models of small aircraft.

The ATSB believes that fitting UTRs (where they are not already installed) is an important safety enhancement for any operator or owner of a small aircraft. However, this is particularly important for operators of passenger transport aircraft. 

Accordingly, the ATSB has issued the following safety recommendation to CASA, and has issued a safety advisory notice to all small aircraft owners and operators.

Recommendation

Action organisation: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Action number: AO-2017-005-SR-027
Date: 17 October 2019
Action status: Released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitment of upper torso restraints (UTRs) for all seats in small aeroplanes and helicopters, particularly for those aircraft (a) being used for air transport operations and/or (b) for those aircraft 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).

ATSB safety advisory notice to all operators of small aeroplanes and helicopters

Action number:  AO-2017-005-SAN-028

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau 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).

Current issue status: Safety action pending
Last update 17 October 2019