Crankshaft "Mandatory Retirement" Disputed

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A California man has filed a class action lawsuit in California against Lycoming over the engine maker's handling of potentially defective crankshafts in as many as 5,000 engines. In a claim filed this week Richard Bristow, a Mooney owner, says that Lycoming should issue a recall of the engines and bear all the costs of repair. Instead, the company issued Service Bulletins 569 and 569A, which require the crankshafts in the affected engines to be replaced at the next overhaul or the next time the crankcase is split, or no later than Feb. 21, 2009, whichever comes first. Those who comply with the bulletin within the time period specified will be supplied a parts kit containing the crankshaft and associated parts for $2,000 and labor costs will not be covered. Robert Mills, the San Rafael, Calif., attorney who filed the action, told AVweb in an exclusive interview that in previous cases involving crankshaft replacement, Lycoming has not only paid the full cost of removal, repair and replacement of the engine, it also covered a portion of the costs associated with the aircraft downtime, such as rentals and airline tickets. (A phone message left by AVweb for Lycoming's media spokeswoman Daria Fish was returned, Monday -- Lycoming is declining comment.) Mills told AVweb, "[In early cases] Lycoming really stepped up and behaved honorably." He added, "I was very disappointed by their response in this latest round." Mills owns a Piper Mirage whose engine was caught in one of the previous recalls and he said he was impressed by the company's attitude, adding that he received a check from Lycoming for aircraft rental costs he incurred while his airplane was laid up.

Savvy readers may note that late last month, AOPA confirmed with the FAA that -- for most aircraft flown in noncommercial operations -- airworthiness directives (ADs) are the only "mandatory" service bulletins around -- regardless of what a manufacturer deems "mandatory." But they noted that complying with an SB still might be a good idea and advise owners to check with their mechanics. SBs sometimes become mandatory ADs after they've gone through the rulemaking process. And, if your aircraft is used in commercial operations, you probably do have to comply with SBs. The FAA in May of 2006 announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that stated, "We determined that 23 failures of similar crankshafts in Lycoming 360 and 540 series reciprocating engines have occurred due to subsurface material flaws that progress to a fatigue failure." The FAA further states that "Lycoming MSB No. 569A, dated April 11, 2006, requires compliance at the next accessibility of the crankshaft, but no later than February 21, 2009." However, this proposed AD would require compliance at the next accessibility of the crankshaft, but no later than 12 years since new, or since the previous engine overhaul.