Wrangling Continues over Dulles Hangar Casualties

 - June 28, 2011, 8:05 AM

The repercussions of last year’s collapse of the hangar complex at the Dulles Jet Center continue to roil and will for years to come, according to industry sources. On Feb. 6, 2010, the weight of accumulated snow caused the roofs of three of the four hangars to collapse, damaging or trapping 19 business aircraft. Insurance agents quickly descended on the scene to assess the situation. After examination by the underwriters and manufacturer representatives, many of the cases were listed as “constructive total losses,” meaning either the aircraft was damaged so badly that an actual total loss was inevitable or that the cost of recovering and repairing the aircraft was greater than approximately 70 to 75 percent of its insured value. “They were not totally damaged, but when [insurers] looked at what it would take to reconstruct the aircraft they knew it was really more worth the time and effort to go ahead and pay for the total loss,” said Patrick Brafford, managing director of Marsh Aviation. Under those circumstances, the insurance company paid the customer the agreed value and claimed the aircraft title for salvage.

According to Scott Anglin, head of Anglin Aircraft Recovery Service, who was tasked with protecting the aircraft from further damage while the hangars were dismantled around them, there were 15 aircraft involved (see box), not including the four Gulfstreams that were trapped for several weeks in Hangar D, which though damaged did not suffer a collapse.

Aircraft Recovery

To protect the aircraft from further damage as the hangars were dismantled around them, Anglin and his team covered them with protective mats and created custom measured nosegear supports for each aircraft to prevent them from slamming down when the weight was removed from their tails. Each support rested on top of a Teflon pad, allowing the nosegear support to move as the weight shifted.

When it came time for the first aircraft to be released, a totaled Global was chosen as the test airplane. While there were initial fears about what the stress of sitting at an unnatural angle for several months might do to the airframe, according to Anglin, once the steel girders were removed the nose of the airplane actually rose six inches. “We had to put about 3,000 pounds of weight under the nose of the airplane to get it to come down to the ground,” he said. “It had gone past its cg and all the fuel had migrated to the outboard wings.”

As more of the aircraft were unburdened, the concern about the fuselage stress appeared to have been unwarranted. “They looked so awful because all that steel was holding the tails of these airplanes down for so many months,” Anglin told AIN. “They were actually just sitting there comfortably on their cgs.” One problem the aircraft did face aside from the actual airframe damage was the fact that they sat largely untouched for several months, necessitating intense engine inspections and maintenance. In some cases engines were shipped back to the manufacturer for service. (See engine pickling article on page XX.)

Members of the aviation insurance industry are loath to discuss the situation on record, citing client confidentiality and ongoing legal activity as the insurers continue subrogation efforts in court to recoup some of their losses. An industry source told AIN that insurers have paid approximately $240 million thus far in claims, covering all but the remaining one or two of the aircraft losses that are still in negotiation. “A lot of aircraft that were in that hangar were valued a little higher than what they were actually worth in the fair market, and that caused a lot of issues,” said Brafford.

According to sources, among the write-offs were three Global Expresses, both Falcons, the Beechjet, one of the Hawkers and the Caravan. The three Gulfstreams that suffered significant empennage damage in the collapse were eventually repaired on site by the manufacturer and flown to Savannah for inspection.