Out-of-limit cg might have led to TEB crash

 - October 31, 2006, 4:48 AM

Although the NTSB has not yet determined a probable cause for the February 2 Challenger 600 accident at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport, it has released a number of factual reports. Apparently, the Platinum Jet Management crew failed to perform weight-and-balance calculations properly and delayed its use of the thrust reversers when the jet failed to take off.

The crew had arrived at Teterboro at 11 p.m. the previous night, after taking an airline flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to La Guardia and a taxi ride to the New Jersey airport. On takeoff around 7 a.m. the next morning, the pilot felt normal acceleration, but when the first officer called rotation speed, the captain could move the control column only about one inch aft. The TEB controller noted that the nosewheel did not lift off the runway. As the aircraft was accelerating through 165 knots, the captain called for an abort.

The jet overran the runway, hit a fence, crossed six-lane Route 46, struck cars and ended up lodged in a building. Despite a post-crash fire, all aboard escaped, the crew (and the occupants of the cars) with serious injuries and the cabin aide and eight passengers (and one person in the building) with minor injuries.

A different crew had flown the Challenger from Las Vegas to TEB the previous night, and they left a message that the fuel remaining was between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds and requested that 1,840 pounds be added.

The NTSB found the accident crew did not perform its pretakeoff weight-and-balance calculations properly and that the actual mtow and cg exceeded the limitations of the airplane flight manual. An onboard fuel computer was found programmed with an empty weight that was too low. The calculated maximum takeoff weight was 41,250 pounds, while the actual weight, after taxi, was 41,323 pounds, 73 pounds greater than the calculated mtow.

In addition, during a post-crash interview, investigators asked the captain to do a weight-and-balance; the cg he calculated exceeded the airplane’s forward cg limit. The NTSB vehicle performance group chairman calculated the actual cg at takeoff weight as 12.47 percent mean aerodynamic chord, which also exceeds the forward cg limit. (The airplane’s cg limits are 16 percent mean aerodynamic chord forward and 26.4 percent aft.) With the forward cg, the trim should have been in a more nose-up position.

The cockpit voice recorder transcript, which the NTSB also released on October 31, provided no clues to the accident. After the crew went over the checklist and taxied to the active runway for takeoff, the copilot called V1 at 7:17:56, then, two seconds later, called “rotate.” At 7:18:02, there was the sound of decreasing engine rpm and the captain called “abort” a second later. At 7:18:11, the captain said, “We’re going.” At 7:18:12, there was a thump, followed by increased background noise until the end of the recording at 7:18:16.

Control of the Flight

Platinum Jet did not have a Part 135 certificate; it operated under the certificate of Darby Aviation of Muscle Shoals, Ala. The Challenger pilots were independent contractors, not employees of Platinum. At the time of the accident, Platinum operated three Challengers. It advertised its services as aircraft management, jet sales and charter.

The FAA principal operations inspector dealt with Darby, not Platinum, because the latter did not have a Part 135 certificate.

In March the FAA issued an emergency cease-and-desist order to Platinum, citing violations of the FARs. Platinum agreed not to operate charters as it did not have an air carrier certificate under Part 119 and did not have operations specifications to operate under Part 135. By the third week of March, Platinum Jet had ceased operations. It now faces nearly $2 million in penalties.

Darby Aviation was also suspended temporarily, cited by the FAA for causing, permitting or allowing “a scheme for Platinum Jet Management to unlawfully operate passenger-carrying flights for compensation or hire” and for not exercising operational control over Platinum. The company is still battling the FAA over the issue.

The captain had been working for Platinum for less than two months at the time of the accident. He had previously worked for a number of operators and received mixed reviews. Jet Systems’ president told investigators that he “terminated the captain after three months for deficiencies in management and decision making.” Shenandoah Services cited the captain’s “poor judgment and decision-making processes on numerous occasions” as the reasons for his dismissal. Dynamic Aviation fired him for “deficiencies in aircraft knowledge, lack of adherence to various procedures, poor flying performance and interpersonal problems.”

On the other hand, Germany’s Templehof Airways praised him for “quick and skillful actions in handling an engine flameout.” Jet Solutions and Marion Pepsi Bottling commended him for “personal pride, sense of responsibility and practical thinking.”

The captain had an ATP certificate and stated he had 16,374 hours and 3,372 in Challenger 600/601s. He could not provide documentation to support his claims of time logged. The commercial-rated first officer had 5,962 hours, with 82.4 as second-in-command in 600/601s.