Charter firm raises questions about RIL runway conditions

 - May 2, 2007, 5:01 AM

Following a runway overrun at Colorado’s Garfield County Regional Airport (RIL) on March 23, the operator of the Falcon 900 that departed Runway 26 after landing is working with investigators and Dassault Falcon Jet to figure out what happened. The Falcon 900 was operated by Xojet, a charter/management company headquartered in San Carlos, Calif., and was on a repositioning flight from Scottsdale, Ariz. to Rifle, Colo., with two pilots and a flight attendant.

According to information provided by the pilots in the NTSB preliminary report, at Rifle the Falcon 900 weighed about 2,000 pounds less than maximum landing weight. The landing took place in night VMC at about 11:05 p.m. Although, according to the NTSB, “the pilot remembered observing a weather report that reported light rain at RIL,” he did not calculate the landing distance using wet runway numbers. He did make sure that the available landing distance was more than the required Part 135 landing distance even though the repositioning flight was conducted under Part 91.

The NTSB report stated that 12 minutes before the Falcon landed, “the RIL ASOS reported the wind calm, 10 statute miles visibility, sky overcast at 3,900 feet, decreasing rain, temperature 8 degrees Celsius, dew point 6 degrees Celsius and an altimeter setting of 29.98 inches of Mercury.” The NTSB also noted that the pilots checked the ASOS before landing, and the report said that there was no rain.

The RIL entry in the Airport/Facility Directory notes that the runway is slick when wet and that the “airport manager recommends landing uphill on Runway 08 when able.” The pilots elected to land on Runway 26. After the visual approach they flew final at Vref plus 10 to 15 knots, then Vref plus 10 below 1,000 feet. According to the NTSB report, the Falcon touched down approximately 1,500 feet down the runway, then the pilot stepped on the brakes and deployed the thrust reversers and “continued to increase brake pressure as it didn’t seem like a normal deceleration rate.”

Even with maximum brakes and full reverse, according to the NTSB, with 2,500 feet of runway remaining, “the airplane continued not to decelerate normally, and the pilots knew they did not have enough runway to execute a go-around. With approximately 1,000 feet of runway remaining, the pilot pulled the parking brake to the second detent, and the aircraft slid off the end of the runway into the dirt and muddy terrain. The crew shut down the engines and exited the airplane via the forward cabin door.”

The Falcon was substantially damaged during the overrun as it decelerated in an unimproved gravel area. The right main landing gear aft trunion sheared and rotated, then punctured the wing skin. The landing gear strut fractured the aft spar and sheared rib number three and damaged the right wing fuel tank. Xojet estimates that the Falcon will be out of service for two to three months, according to chief marketing officer Nick Solinger.

Xojet is trying to learn as much as possible about what caused the overrun. “We are looking closely at the runway conditions, runway slope and landing calculations for the Falcon 900 to determine the precise location and speed of the aircraft at touchdown and other aspects of the incident,” Solinger told AIN. “Initial data collected indicate that all FAA and manufacturer landing distance requirements were met with some margin.”

Xojet, which was awarded a Platinum rating on March 22 by auditing firm ARG/US, has had a safety management system (SMS) in place since last year. “The system was designed by Xojet’s safety team, composed of a v-p of safety and quality assurance, chief inspector and flight safety officer, who are empowered by the CEO of Xojet to oversee all aspects of Xojet’s operation.” The SMS also meets the recommendations in the FAA’s SMS advisory circular, AC 120-92, and Xojet is expecting certification in the National Air Transportation Association’s SMS for Charter program in the middle of the year.

The Xojet SMS uses software to manage compliance with procedures and an audit trail to ensure compliance. All employees have access to the system and receive training on policies and standard operating procedures at least twice a year.

An SMS requires measurement of safety problems. Solinger explained that “Any discrepancies automatically generate non-conformance reports, which are routed to the appropriate personnel immediately, with escalation and even automated electronic paging on urgent items.” The company also performs peer reviews, including flights with training captains, “to provide additional measurement and training opportunities.”

An employee who spots a discrepancy is required to file a nonconformance report. Every week the director of operations, chief pilot and vice president of safety and quality assurance compile “items of emphasis.” They use this information “to provide real-time recommendations, training and reinforcement of policies and procedures,” said Solinger. He added that the company used its SMS procedures after the Rifle overrun to deal with the situation (see 'Post-accident SMS Actions' below).

Xojet does have specific criteria for landing procedures to ensure positive touchdown and minimum runway usage, according to Solinger. “Xojet’s landing criteria require a firm landing in the touchdown zone,” he explained, “based on the Part 25 aircraft landing criteria. These criteria are included in our GOM and included in simulator training. They are further reinforced in training flights in the aircraft once pilots have successfully completed their simulator training.”

An Xojet Citation X was involved in an incident on Aug. 26, 2006, at McClellan Airfield in Sacramento, Calif. According to the FAA incident report, “prior to takeoff, the flight crew held pressure on brakes while taxiing under higher-than-normal engine power settings to burn off excessive fuel load. The right tire caught fire and damaged wheel-well components as well as wing and flap skins.”

Xojet policy, according to Solinger, “requires excess fuel to be unloaded by ground personnel or burned off with engines at idle while the aircraft is stationary with the emergency brake set.” The company training program specifically addresses taxiing operations with carbon brakes, he explained, “derived from work done by Airbus, as an equivalent advisory was not made available by Cessna.” Since the Sacramento incident, “we have subsequently added even greater emphasis on proper taxiing techniques, including proper use of carbon brakes and thrust reversers.”

Safety Analysis
AIN asked ARG/US how incidents such as the brake fire and the runway overrun affect its auditing process. The ARG/US auditors do evaluate negative events, but the focus is more on an in-depth assessment. According to Kathy Tyler, ARG/US director for sales and marketing, “The ARG/US audit is a true process and systems audit that is designed to verify that an operation is managed, organized and run consistent with industry best practices and reflects a clear commitment to safety. The on-site findings of the auditors are the determining factor. If the negative event occurred before an on-site audit, the auditors would review all pertinent material so that additional focus could be applied during the audit on the systems and processes related to the event, as well as verifying that corrective actions (if appropriate) had been taken.”

The brake fire didn’t show up in ARG/ US’s safety history report on Xojet. This is information available to ARG/US customers who are using the system to evaluate charter operators audited by ARG/US. “Even though this was an incident in the FAA records,” Tyler said, “this would not have a negative effect on Xojet’s history.”

The Rifle runway overrun was also not in Xojet’s history report, at least when AIN viewed the report in early April. “We’re finding out what is the issue, before we put the overrun on,” Tyler explained.

The Rifle overrun could be related to runway conditions, according to Solinger. “What we do know is that five or more aircraft have exited the runway at Rifle this season, and there were recently plans to groove the runway, which have been replaced with an accelerated plan to resurface it. In conditions such as those on the night in question, the combination of water and glycol from the winter de-icing season can make the runway surface extremely slick.” The FAA incident database has no records of any other runway overruns occurring in the past year at RIL.

Post-accident SMS Actions

• The director of flight operations imposed a safety standdown with all Xojet crewmembers to discuss the incident and possible contributing factors.

• Xojet dual-release flight planning and dispatch procedures for mountain operations have been updated for Rifle Airport, restricting operations to Runway 8 under dry conditions only. This decision will be revisited once friction tests on the runways at Rifle have been performed to allow an assessment of the runway under wet or contaminated conditions.

• Xojet has restricted operations into certain secondary airports that might not fully comply with the FAA advisory circular relating to the quality and surface condition of runways.

• The company is working with the assigned NTSB and FAA investigators, Dassault Falcon Jet and Rifle Airport to determine the root cause.