FAA blamed in commuter plane crash Safety board's report focuses on icing problems

August 28, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

The nation's top safety officials leveled a blast at the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday, blaming the FAA for last year's fatal crash of a Comair commuter plane during a snowstorm near Detroit.

The report focused on procedures for aircraft in icing conditions.

"The probable cause of this accident was the FAA's failure to establish adequate aircraft certification standards for flight in icing conditions, the FAA's failure to ensure that an approved procedure for the accident plane's de-ice system operation was implemented by U.S. carriers and the FAA's failure to require the establishment of adequate minimum airspeeds for icing conditions," the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Contributing to the accident were the pilots' decision to fly at dangerously slow speeds in known icing conditions and Comair's failure to set minimum air speeds for flying in such conditions, the NTSB said.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr responded that his agency "already is taking actions that address some of the board's concerns about increasing the safety of aircraft in icing conditions."

"We look forward to working with the board on these issues," Dorr said. "Safety is our top priority." Dorr did not offer any specifics.

Top Comair officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Comair's Flight 3272 -- flying as the Delta Connection -- rolled unsteadily and then crashed nose-first into a cornfield in Raisinville Township as the plane approached Detroit during a snowstorm on Jan. 9, 1997. All 29 aboard the twin-engine Embraer 120 turboprop were killed.

The NTSB suggested from the outset that ice may have brought the plane down.

In yesterday's report, the NTSB said the gradual buildup of all-but-invisible ice on the plane's wings may have been imperceptible to the flight crew.

"The current operating procedures -- recommending that pilots wait until ice accumulates to an observable thickness [before activating de-icing equipment] results in an unnecessary exposure to a significant risk," the NTSB said.

The FAA, which is responsible for drawing up and enforcing the regulations governing the U.S. aviation industry, has been a frequent target of the NTSB in recent years.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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