NTSB urges tighter repair station certification

 - March 28, 2007, 10:13 AM

Following its investigation of the Jan. 24, 2003 fatal crash of a Beech 95 Travel Air in Upland, Calif., the NTSB recommended last month that the FAA prohibit individuals who have been associated with a previously revoked repair station certificate from operating a new repair station in a different FAA region. It expressed concern that the FAA currently has no mechanism in place for preventing such an occurrence.

The Travel Air pilot lost control shortly after takeoff from Cable Airport after a two-and-a-half foot section of a blade separated from the right propeller. The airplane entered a steep right bank, rolled inverted and hit a house in Rancho Cucamonga. The aircraft was destroyed and the sole-occupant pilot was killed. The flight was being conducted under Part 91 and was the first following overhauls of both propellers.

The investigation found all four propeller blades from the accident airplane in a condition that suggests they were improperly overhauled, the NTSB said. T&W Propellers of Chino, Calif., which operated as a limited propeller repair station, had previously overhauled all four blades. In addition, the investigation discovered two additional propeller blades from another airplane that had been similarly improperly overhauled by T&W.

As a result of the investigation, the NTSB recommended that the FAA require immediate inspection of certain propellers overhauled by T&W Propellers. The FAA responded with an AD requiring certain inspections and also issued an unapproved-parts notice (UPN) recommending inspection of all propellers maintained, altered or approved for return to service by T&W that were not covered by the AD.

As result of the AD and UPN inspections, the FAA has received reports of at least seven other propellers in a condition that suggests they were improperly overhauled. The FAA issued a letter of investigation to T&W on February 7 last year, questioning its overhaul procedures. T&W surrendered its air agency certificate on February 14 last year, and the enforcement investigation was never completed.

The Safety Board’s investigation revealed that the owner of T&W, who also served as the chief inspector, had previously been the chief inspector at another repair station, Southern California Propeller Service (SCPS) in Inglewood, Calif. The FAA revoked SCPS’s repair station certificate on June 16, 1998, for performing improper maintenance and overhauls on aircraft propellers. Following the revocation, the FAA issued a special airworthiness information bulletin (SAIB) in March 2001 to all owners of propellers overhauled by SCPS recommending that these propellers be re-inspected. Propeller re-inspection results reported to the FAA as a result of this SAIB indicated that 17 propellers (40 percent of the re-inspection results reported to the FAA) were improperly overhauled by SCPS.

“The Safety Board is concerned that the FAA has no mechanism for preventing individuals who have been associated with a previously revoked repair station, such as the owner of T&W, from continuing to operate through a new repair station,” it said in the recommendation letter to the FAA.

Although FAR 119.39(b) allows the FAA to deny an application for a Part 121 or 135 air-carrier or operating certificate if the applicant has previously held or exercised control over a certificate that was revoked, there is no similar regulation applicable to Part 145 repair stations. “The same safety concerns that are addressed by the FAA’s limitation on air carriers and other commercial operators should also apply to repair stations,” the NTSB said.

But the FAA revealed that the investigation into the improper overhauls performed by T&W Propellers was never completed because the owner voluntary surrendered his repair station certificate. That caused the NTSB to speculate that even if a rule similar to FAR 119.39 applied to repair stations, individuals who have voluntarily surrendered a certificate or otherwise avoided a revocation could move to a different area under the jurisdiction of a different FAA FSDO and open a new repair station “without the relevant FAA certification personnel necessarily being aware of the circumstances of the previous investigation.”

The Safety Board is concerned that the process by which the FAA tracks key personnel and issues air-carrier, operating and repair station certificates might not be robust enough to identify individuals who have voluntarily surrendered a certificate to avoid investigation or revocation.

It recommended that even if a certificate is surrendered before completion of an enforcement investigation that is based on charges that could be grounds for revocation, the FAA should nonetheless complete the investigation to the extent necessary to document all available facts relating to the fitness of the individuals involved. Furthermore, the NTSB said these facts should be made available to all FAA personnel responsible for granting a future certificate when considering the fitness of an applicant.