WASHINGTON – Federal regulators have ordered the immediate inspection of throttles on small personal jets manufactured by Eclipse Aviation Corp. after one plane made an emergency landing in Chicago.
In response to an urgent recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order late Thursday requiring inspection of all Eclipse 500 aircraft throttles and replacement of malfunctioning ones before each plane is flown again. The FAA order also requires that operators immediately insert into the aircraft's flight manual new emergency procedures for dual engine control failure.
The FAA said the Chicago incident had shown that the throttles for the plane's two engines could remain stuck at full power if pushed forward with enough force, depriving the pilot of the ability to control the plane's speed.
Eclipse said in a written statement Friday from its Albuquerque, N.M., headquarters that it had informed all its customers and Eclipse 500 operators about the Chicago event "in advance of the premature National Transportation Safety Board's recommendation." By Friday morning, "all fleet operators using the Eclipse 500 already have complied with the inspection requirement, and their aircraft are in the air operating normally," the company added. It said private owners of the plane would be able to complete the inspection in less than 10 minutes.
"We are cooperating fully with the FAA investigation and have communicated everything we know and have learned about this situation to our Eclipse 500 customers and operators," said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation.
NTSB chairman Mark Rosenker said he didn't think his agency acted prematurely. "The quick FAA response to the urgent recommendations we issued could save lives," Rosenker said Friday. "Additionally, the NTSB is looking forward to reviewing the results of the FAA-required inspections of these aircraft."
Rosenker had noted earlier that "the Eclipse 500 is still a new aircraft model, with some 200 having been delivered." He said Thursday that his agency's inquiry into the accident revealed a safety issue that "needs immediate attention."
The safety board said the plane in Chicago developed its problem after only 238 hours of flight.
"Had it not been for the resourcefulness of the pilots," good weather and the plane's proximity to Midway Airport, where it was landing, "the successful completion of this flight would have been unlikely," the safety board advised the FAA. The two pilots and two passengers were unhurt; two landing gear tires were flattened.
The board said that shortly before landing a windshear pushed the plane down rapidly, the pilot halted the dive by pushing the power up on both the Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, but when he throttled the engines back down to slow the plane for landing, the engines remained at maximum power. The pilot aborted the landing and used the landing gear and flaps to slow the plane.
Midway cleared it for emergency landing. The pilot shut down one engine to slow the craft but noticed that the remaining engine then began to idle and threatened to stall the plane, but he was able to land before that.