Autopilot Safety Fears Prompt Airworthiness Rewrite

 - November 22, 2006, 6:21 AM

Reacting to potential safety vulnerabilities in flight control systems installed on Part 25 business jets, the FAA is amending the airworthiness standards for autopilot, autothrust and flight guidance systems. Based on a 2004 FAA proposal and input from airframe and avionics manufacturers, effective May 11 the amended rules require automatic flight control design changes in newly certified business jets with mtow greater than 12,500 pounds. Responding to a number of accidents and incidents attributed to incorrect pilot interaction with automated flight deck systems, the changes add autopilot override, speed protection and cockpit annunciation features to future autopilot and autothrust designs. The changes were prompted in part by the September 1999 fatal in-flight upset of a Greek government-owned Falcon 900B. According to investigators, the high-profile incident followed a failure in the pitch feel system and was triggered by the pilot pulling back on the yoke before disengaging the autopilot. Seven passengers aboard the flight were killed, including Greece's deputy foreign minister.