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Old 8th Oct 2019, 00:04
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Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: Rockytop, Tennessee, USA
Posts: 5,873
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) held a press conference earlier today and sent a letter to the FAA with the questions below. I've attached the full letter to this post, it includes a copy of Collings' LHFE exemption notice. The exemption letter has details on the requirements and restrictions for carrying passengers in the listed historic aircraft.

This CTPost article examines some of the history and issues involved with the LHFE program.

Blumenthal questions exemption allowing passengers on vintage planes

By Lisa Backus

Updated 7:11 pm EDT, Monday, October 7, 2019
The fatal crash of a B-17 Flying Fortress last week and others like it will likely lead to changes in the Federal Aviation Administration policy that allows vintage aircraft museums to offer flights for a fee, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal wants to know whether the Collings Foundation properly reported prior engine problems as part of an inquiry he is requesting from the FAA, which allows vintage aircraft like the B-17 Flying Fortress that crashed killing seven in Connecticut last Wednesday to give flights to the public for a fee.

Blumenthal announced Monday during a press conference that he is seeking the FAA to conduct a full examination of its Living History Flight Experience exemption program and specifically he wants information on the Collings Foundation exemption, which was renewed in March 2018.
“I am in no way advocating that these planes should be grounded, just that they should be made safe,” Blumenthal said.

The exemption allows the Massachusetts-based company to use 10 vintage warbirds for passenger trips for a fee. The foundation was the first not-for-profit organization in the country to seek an exemption as a way of drumming up a revenue stream to help pay for the cost of maintaining its extensive vintage aircraft collection, according to the FAA.

The agency has issued exemptions to 20 organizations in the past 10 years, according to an FAA spokeswoman. The FAA didn’t immediately have information on how many non-profit museums and foundations have been given exemptions since the program started in 1996.
The FAA's LHFE exemption allows vintage warbirds that have met the agency's standards for training and maintenance to fly with the public on board with a special limited airworthiness certification.

Each exemption granted allows nonprofit organizations to fly the planes without the same restrictions as commercial or private planes that fly passengers. But in exchange, each exemption comes with a tailored list of requirements, said Dick Knapinski, a senior communications advisor for the Experimental Aviation Association, a national nonprofit organization that promotes recreational aviation and advocates on the federal level to prevent undue restrictions on flying.

The exemptions must be re-approved about every two years and involve an extensive review of all training and operations, Knapinski said.
The EAA has been flying its own B-17 since 1994 — two years before the FAA created the exemption program, he said. The EAA was the second outfit to receive an exemption, according to the FAA. Knapinski estimates that between 20 and 30 organizations have LHFE exemptions.

The B-17 Flying Fortress, restored by the Collings Foundation as a replica of the "Nine-0-Nine," which flew 140 combat missions in World War II, crashed minutes after taking off from Bradley International Airport Wednesday morning.

Pilot Earnest "Mac" McCauley radioed air traffic controllers that he was having a problem with engine four and needed to return to the airport about four minutes after he had taken off with 10 passengers aboard. The plane hit transmission towers before the runway and crashed into a de-icing building, National Transportation Safety Board officials said.

McCauley and his co-pilot and five passengers died. The plane's technician and five other passengers survived with varying injuries. An airport employee in the de-icing building was also injured. Blumenthal said witnesses reported that the plane was having engine problems prior to the crash.

According to an FAA document renewing the certification sent to the foundation in March 2018, the organization must report any major system problems or failures on its exempt planes within 24 hours. Blumenthal said he’s talked to previous passengers of the B-17 who said they watched as McCauley got on a ladder to fix an engine before a flight.

The passengers had paid $450 for the B-17 flight.

Blumenthal is asking the FAA to review the policy and current safety protections to determine if they are adequate.

“The questions I’m raising is how does the FAA justify the differences between these flights and others and what’s the rationale for treating them differently?” Blumenthal said.

In a letter he sent Monday to the FAA, Blumenthal also questioned if the Collings Foundation had maintenance logs at another location since the documents appeared to have been stored on the aircraft, which crashed and burned.

Knapinski said his organization keeps maintenance logs in the plane and in a central office.

“It would be important for a mechanic to have that information if the plane was out in the field,” Knapinski said.

The planes operate primarily out of commercial airports since they allow the public greater access to the warbirds, Knapinski said. Passengers are not screened by Transportation Safety Administration employees but are treated the same way as those who are taking a business jet, he said.

“We have a manifest of the passengers,” Knapinski said. “But the passengers do not go through metal detectors in the same way those who fly on business jets do not go through metal detectors.”

Knapinski said the FAA and the NSTB, which are both investigating the crash, will also draw larger conclusions if the LHFE program needs to be changed based on their findings.

“Let’s let the professionals do their investigation because at this point, what are we chasing?” Knapinski said. “It’s premature and an injustice to those investigators.”

This isn’t the first time the LHFE program has faces scrutiny. FAA documents show the agency has rewritten the requirements and regulations for LHFE exemptions at least twice since 1996 due to problems. The FAA placed a four-year moratorium on any new exemptions in 2011 after receiving applications that included potentially dangerous activities, including offering passengers the chance to engage in mid-air flight simulations for a fee, according to agency documents.

“What I am suggesting is nothing new,” Blumenthal said. “These standards have been revamped at least twice since 1996.”

According to Blumenthal, there have been 21 crashes involving vintage aircraft, including three B-17s, since 1982 that have resulted in 23 deaths. The figures do not include Wednesday’s crash.

Blumenthal contended that the planes and the flights are a valued part of the country’s history, but said the crashes will likely lead to changes in the exemption program.

“These World War II planes are a respected and revered part of American history,” he said. “Part of that respect is to make sure they are safe whenever flown.”
Attached Files
File Type: pdf
Blumenthal FAA Letter.pdf (1.59 MB, 8 views)
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