Court Clears Controller In Sport-Jet Crash
The clash between a light jet's insurance company and air traffic controllers over the 2006 non-fatal crash of the prototype Sport-Jet has been decided in court, in favor of the on-duty controller. The defendant in this case was the United States of America (according to court documents) in the form of the FAA. The plaintiff was the Sport-Jet's insurer. Court papers dated June 17, 2010, show the Sport-Jet followed a Dash 8 as it departed. Once airborne the Sport-Jet's wing dipped and the aircraft cartwheeled. The plaintiff charged that proper separation was not provided per the FAA's regulatory guidance and a wake encounter had caused the accident. The court decided that the on-duty controller met the applicable regulations for separation in handling the departures and concluded that even if a breach of regulations had occurred, "a wake turbulence encounter did not cause the accident." The logic that lead to that conclusion was complicated.
Determining the applicable wake-turbulence separation rules in this case was complex. The Dash 8 is classified as a "large" aircraft, which would have required a three-minute separation interval before being followed by a "small" aircraft. Separation in this case was determined to be 126 seconds. However, the court found that at its departure weight, the Dash 8 fell into the "small" aircraft classification. As such, the court agreed with the defense that the 126-second separation between the Sport-Jet's departure and the Dash 8 was sufficient to dissipate any wake turbulence the Sport-Jet might have encountered and that wake turbulence did not cause the accident. That aside, the court determined that the Sport-Jet's test pilot was issued a "caution wake turbulence" warning when he was cleared for departure and was in position to see the departing aircraft. Also, evidence was entered that Sport-Jet had not determined the aircraft's stall speed prior to the accident and could not rule out a stall as a possible cause for the crash.