AOPA: FAA's Treatment of Cracks Unclear

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The FAA has released a new draft Advisory Circular (AC) that sets guidelines to allow aging aircraft to continue flying with known cracks if the crack is not in a primary structure and the airframe can still withstand the ultimate design load. AOPA says the AC needs to clarify that it can be applied to all older general aviation aircraft. "The FAA left out the majority of older GA aircraft from this guidance document," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "As drafted, it only applies to Part 23-certificated aircraft. But most aircraft flying today were certificated under the old CAR 3 standards." The AC would publicize a long-existing FAA policy that says an aircraft is still airworthy if the crack is not in the primary structure and the airframe can still withstand the ultimate design load, AOPA said. "It's important that the policy be applied uniformly and predictably to all aircraft in order to keep them flying safely and affordably," Gutierrez said. AOPA also expressed concern that the proposed AC excludes some previously acceptable methods used to substantiate an airplane's ability to fly safely despite cracks. "The removal of those options from the AC would eliminate viable alternative testing methods with demonstrated success in determining the continued safety of the airframe," said Gutierrez. Most older aircraft have developed cracks in some structures because of the natural aging process. Although certification authorities in some other countries ground aircraft with any cracks, the FAA has taken the position of determining if the crack poses any threat to safety.