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CRFS produced by StandardAero/Robertson Fuel Systems. Augusto Herrera Photo

Congress directs FAA to revisit crash-resistant fuel systems in helicopters

By Elan Head | May 20, 2024

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 30 seconds.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration will be required to revisit the topic of crash-resistant fuel systems (CRFS) in helicopters under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2024 that was signed into law last week.

In the last FAA Reauthorization Act, passed in 2018, Congress mandated CRFS in all new-build helicopters operating in the U.S., a requirement that took effect on April 5, 2020. The rule followed extensive study of CRFS and other crash safety features by the Rotorcraft Occupant Protection Working Group (ROPWG), convened by the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), which published its recommendations in a final report in October 2018.

The CRFS mandate improved the safety of newly manufactured helicopters, but because it does not apply to aircraft built before April 2020, many older helicopters continue to fly in the U.S. without this important safety feature. As Vertical has previously reported, operators have been reluctant to spend money on CRFS retrofits, although Airbus Helicopters Inc. recently began offering retrofit kits free of charge to customers with AS350 B3, H125 (AS350 B3e), and EC130 B4 helicopters in the U.S.

The 2024 FAA Reauthorization Act directs the ARAC to review the ROPWG’s analysis and recommendations, and update its 2018 report using data on post-crash fires in helicopter accidents from 2016 through 2023. That time frame includes the February 2018 crash in the Grand Canyon of an EC130 B4 operated by Papillon Airways, which resulted in five fatalities that the National Transportation Safety Board linked to significant burn injuries from the immediate post-crash fire.

The Reauthorization Act states that the ARAC should determine “whether and to what extent crash-resistant fuel systems could have prevented fatalities in the accidents” and “develop recommendations for either the [FAA] or the helicopter industry to encourage helicopter owners and operators to expedite the installation of crash-resistant fuel systems in [their] aircraft . . . regardless of original certification and manufacture date.”

The act directs the ARAC to submit its recommendations within 18 months of being tasked with the project, and tells the FAA to begin acting on those recommendations within 180 days of receiving them. It also directs the FAA to partner with the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team to facilitate the implementation of any recommendations developed specifically for the helicopter industry.

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1 Comment

  1. It is remarkable that Airbus do not offer all operators the same opportunities to increase safety for passengers.

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