FAA told to ground plane made from Missouri company's kits

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | 7:15 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — Safety officials urged the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday to ground a type of light sport plane they said has broken apart in flight six times since 2006, killing 10 people, four of them in Europe.

The National Transportation Safety Board requested the agency prohibit further flight by the Zodiac CH-601XL, a single-engine, two-seat plane made from kits sold by Zenith Aircraft Co. in Missouri.

The NTSB said the most recent fatality occurred on March 3, when a CH-601XL broke apart while cruising near Antelope Island, Utah, and killed the pilot.

The board said the plane is susceptible to "aerodynamic flutter," a phenomenon in which the surfaces of the plane can suddenly vibrate, and if unmitigated, break the plane apart.

The CH-601XL was certified as a special light sport aircraft by the FAA in 2005, the NTSB said. This type of certification does not require that the FAA approve the airplane's design. Instead, the airplane model is issued an airworthiness certificate if the manufacturer asserts that the plane meets industry-accepted design standards and has passed a series of ground and flight tests, the board said.

"The NTSB does not often recommend that all airplanes of a particular type be prohibited from further flight," acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said in a statement. "In this case, we believe such action will save lives. Unless the safety issues with this particular Zodiac model are addressed, we are likely to see more accidents in which pilots and passengers are killed in airplanes that they believed were safe to fly."

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said she had just learned of therecommendation and was seeking further information.

Chris Heintz, founder of Zenair Ltd., which leases the plane's design and marketing rights to Zenith, did not return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Other CH-601XL accidents cited by the board:

  • On Feb. 8, 2006, near Oakdale, Calif., a plane crashed after its wings collapsed, killing two.
  • On Nov. 4, 2006, a plane broke up in flight while cruising near Yuba City, Calif., killing two.
  • On Feb. 5, 2008, a plane crashed near Barcelona, Spain, after its wings folded up during a descent shortly before landing, killing two.
  • On April 7, 2008, a plane broke up in flight near Polk City, Fla., killing one.
  • On September 14, 2008, a plane crashed in the Netherlands, killing two.


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