Was 10-seat PC-12 That Crashed Legal with 14 Aboard?

 - March 26, 2009, 11:44 AM

The Pilatus PC-12 that crashed Sunday afternoon in Butte, Mont., was configured with only 10 seats, but under FAR Part 91 it might have been legal to carry the seven adults and seven children aboard the turboprop single, according to aviation attorney Randy Davis. All 14 died when the airplane “nosed in” while on short approach to Bert Mooney Airport. Davis, the vice president and general counsel at Cartersville, Ga.-based Phoenix Air Group, told AIN that the 10-seat PC-12 could have been legal with seven adults and one lap child under two years old occupying seven seats, and the children ranging in ages from three to nine sharing the remaining three seats. Under FAR 91.107(a)(3) and an FAA chief counsel opinion issued in 1990, “Part 91 operations can and do permit at least two persons in one seat and secured by one safety belt,” Davis said, so long as their combined weight doesn’t exceed 170 pounds and relevant and legal aircraft type limitations are met. The FAA confirmed that the 1990 ruling is still valid and also affirmed the flight was being operated under Part 91. However, FAA counsel is now looking at FAR 91.205(b)(13), an amendment added in September 1992, and any occupant limitations in the aircraft flight manual to determine the legality of such seat sharing. Meanwhile, the NTSB investigation of the crash is ongoing.