Post-Crash Fires in Small Aircraft Reveal Federal Hesitation

Posted on Oct 30, 2014

It is well known in commercial aviation that post-crash fires are deadly. Cabin crews around the world are trained to evacuate aircraft of all sizes in under 90 seconds specifically to avoid any flashover fire injuries.


Burns and smoke inhalation are very common injuries after small aircraft accidents, and reports on hundreds of accidents have noted that occupants survived the initial impact of the plane hitting the ground, but were killed by the ensuing flame and smoke inhalation. It became clear that fuel tanks and lines were very vulnerable in small aircraft, and in 1990 the Federal Aviation Administration proposed crash-resistant fuel systems, estimating about 20 lives being saved per year.


This proposal was rejected by the FAA after much resistance from aircraft manufacturers, claiming that budget issues prevented further research on the matter. Currently, the only requirements are that small aircraft fuel tanks must retain fuel on a gear-up or collapsed gear landing, with no mention of wing damage that is common in many crashes. By comparison, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandates that vehicles can only leak one ounce of fuel or less in a 50 mph rear-end collision.


With the intense flammability of 100LL that is contained in most small aircraft, along with the fuel’s low flashpoint, finding a way to protect occupants from post-fire crashes is a worthy pursuit. Debates over cost-benefit analyses since 1990 eventually ended with the FAA tabling the project in 2013.


The Arizona aviation accident attorneys at Curry, Pearson & Wooten are interested to see the FAA’s continued interest in general aviation safety, and hope that another proposal is actively in the works.