[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 37 (Monday, February 25, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 12648-12651]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-04217]


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DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Federal Aviation Administration

14 CFR Part 39

[Docket No. FAA-2013-0159; Directorate Identifier 2012-SW-010-AD]
RIN 2120-AA64


Airworthiness Directives; Robinson Helicopter Company

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

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SUMMARY: We propose to supersede an existing airworthiness directive 
(AD) for Robinson Helicopter Company (Robinson) Model R22, R22 Alpha, 
R22 Beta, R22 Mariner, R44, and R44 II helicopters with certain main 
rotor blades (blade) installed. The existing AD currently requires 
inspecting each blade at the skin-to-spar line for debonding, 
corrosion, a separation, a gap, or a dent and replacing any damaged 
blade with an airworthy blade. Since we issued that AD, a terminating 
action for the inspection requirements of that AD has been developed. 
The proposed actions are intended to detect debonding of the blade 
skin, which could result in blade failure and subsequent loss of 
control of the helicopter, and to correct the unsafe condition by 
replacing the main rotor blades with new blades that do not require the 
AD inspection.

DATES: We must receive comments on this proposed AD by April 26, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may send comments by any of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Docket: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for sending your 
comments electronically.
     Fax: 202-493-2251.
     Mail: Send comments to the U.S. Department of 
Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West Building Ground Floor, 
Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery: Deliver to the ``Mail'' address between 9 
a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

Examining the AD Docket

    You may examine the AD docket on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov or in person at the Docket Operations Office 
between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal 
holidays. The AD docket contains this proposed AD, the economic 
evaluation, any comments received and other information. The street 
address for the Docket Operations Office (telephone 800-647-5527) is in 
the ADDRESSES section. Comments will be available in the AD docket 
shortly after receipt.
    For service information identified in this proposed AD, contact 
Robinson Helicopter Company, 2901 Airport Drive, Torrance, CA 90505; 
telephone (310) 539-0508; fax (310) 539-5198; or at http://www.robinsonheli.com/servelib.htm. You may review a copy of service 
information at the FAA, Office of the Regional Counsel, Southwest 
Region, 2601 Meacham Blvd., Room 663, Fort Worth, Texas 76137.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Fred Guerin, Aviation Safety Engineer, 
Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office, Transport Airplane 
Directorate, FAA, 3960 Paramount Blvd., Lakewood, CA 90712; telephone 
(562) 627-5232; email fred.guerin@faa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Comments Invited

    We invite you to participate in this rulemaking by submitting 
written comments, data, or views. We also invite comments relating to 
the economic, environmental, energy, or federalism impacts that might 
result from adopting the proposals in this document. The most helpful 
comments reference a specific portion of the proposal, explain the 
reason for any recommended change, and include supporting data. To 
ensure the docket does not contain duplicate comments, commenters 
should send only one copy of written comments, or if comments are filed 
electronically, commenters should submit only one time.
    We will file in the docket all comments that we receive, as well as 
a report summarizing each substantive public contact with FAA personnel 
concerning this proposed rulemaking. Before acting on this proposal, we 
will consider all comments we receive on or before the closing date for 
comments. We will consider comments filed after the comment period has 
closed if it is possible to do so without incurring expense or delay. 
We may change this proposal in light of the comments we receive.

Discussion

    On June 2, 2011, we issued AD 2011-12-10, amendment 39-16717 (76 FR 
35330, June 17, 2011) (AD 2011-12-10) for Robinson Model R22, R22A, R22 
Beta, and R22 Mariner helicopters, with a blade, part number (P/N) 
A016-4; and Model R44 and R44 II helicopters, with a blade, P/N C016-2 
or C016-5. We

[[Page 12649]]

corrected a typographical error in AD 2011-12-10 on March 5, 2012 (77 
FR 12991). AD 2011-12-10 requires a pilot check of the blade skin-to-
spar joint area for any bare metal before the first flight of each day. 
That AD also requires, within 10 hours time-in-service (TIS), and 
thereafter at 100-hour TIS intervals or at each annual inspection, or 
if any bare metal is found during the pilot check, inspecting each 
blade for corrosion, separation, a gap, or a dent by following certain 
procedures in Robinson R22 Service Bulletin SB-103, dated April 30, 
2010, for Model R22 series helicopters or Robinson R44 Service Bulletin 
SB-72, dated April 30, 2010, for Model R44 series helicopters. That AD 
also requires refinishing any bare metal before further flight and 
replacing any damaged blade with an airworthy blade.
    AD 2011-12-10 superseded AD 2007-26-12, Amendment 39-15314 (73 FR 
397, January 3, 2008) (AD 2007-26-12) which requires a one-time visual 
inspection for skin separation along the leading edge of the blade skin 
aft of the skin-to-spar bond line on the lower surface of each blade 
and in the tip cap area. AD 2007-26-12 also requires a ``tap test'' for 
detecting a separation or void in both bonded areas, repainting any 
exposed area of the blades, and replacing any blade if separation or a 
void occurs. That AD was prompted by 11 reports of blade debond, some 
occurring in flight and some found during routine maintenance.

Actions Since Existing AD Was Issued

    Since we issued AD 2011-12-10, Robinson has developed replacement 
blades on both the R22 and R44 helicopters, and we have determined that 
replacing P/N A016-2 and -4 blades with P/N A016-6 blades for the Model 
R22 helicopter and P/N C016-2 and -5 blades with P/N C016-7 blades for 
the Model R44 helicopter will constitute terminating action for all 
requirements of that AD. We have also determined that it is in the 
interest of safety that all blades are replaced within 5 years. The 
actions of this AD are intended to detect debonding or a void in the 
blade, which could lead to failure of the blade and subsequent loss of 
control of the helicopter. These actions will also correct the unsafe 
condition by replacing the main rotor blades with new blades that do 
not require the AD inspection.
    Also, since issuing AD 2011-12-10, we have received comments from 
13 commenters and have given due consideration to each one. We have 
identified seven unique issues and addressed those issues as follows:
    Three commenters stated that making a logbook entry each day 
showing the AD check for paint is unnecessary and burdensome. The 
commenters also stated it is the same importance as other pre-flight 
checks that are not documented. One commenter suggested replacing the 
daily check and logbook entry with a pre-flight check and no logbook 
entry. One commenter stated that ``we need to trust the pilots and 
maintenance people to do their jobs and not add to this burden of it 
looks good on paper world.'' We do not agree. FAA policy requires a 
logbook entry for checks performed pursuant to the directions of an AD.
    Four commenters stated it is not necessary to shorten the 
retirement life of main rotor blades by AD. They stated the cost is 
high compared to the safety benefit, it could put small operators out 
of business, and the problem is caused by poor inspection practices. 
One commenter added that routine inspections are performed before 
flight and if any defects were discovered that operator would be aware 
of it and not attempt flight until repairs were made. If operated in an 
environment where none of the causal factors exist, reliance on 
continued inspections is an adequate and appropriate long term solution 
to blade replacement. We do not agree. AD 2011-12-10 does not decrease 
the retirement life of the affected blades. While this proposed AD 
supersedure would require blade life reduction and replacement, we are 
providing for public comment prior to adoption of the proposed AD.
    Three commenters expressed concern that the cost estimates for 
older R44 Astro model helicopters is inaccurate, as these models must 
be refitted with hydraulic assisted controls before the new aluminum 
blades can be operated. They further stated that this modification can 
only be performed at the Robinson factory and the cost for shipping and 
overhaul is high. They question who will pay for the loss of income and 
state that mandating replacement of the -5 blade would have the 
unintended consequence of immediately grounding and placing an entire 
class of safe machines beyond economical repair. One of these 
commenters stated that replacing the blades on his R44 has been 
``financially devastating'' due to both replacement costs and his loss 
of revenue, and believes Robinson should be responsible for these 
costs, not owners.
    We do not agree. We are aware that the replacement blades for the 
R44 Astro are not compatible with a helicopter without hydraulic 
assisted controls, but we disagree that the R44 Astro will be beyond 
economical repair as many R44 Astros have been refitted with 
hydraulics, and conversions occur often. AD 2011-12-10 estimated costs 
for replacing one blade if debonding was present, and did not address 
any costs to modify the helicopter to accept the new part-numbered 
blades manufactured by Robinson. The FAA does not concur with the 
commenter's request that the FAA require the manufacturer to cover the 
cost of replacing the blades. The FAA recognizes that the general 
obligation of the operator to maintain aircraft in an airworthy 
condition is vital, but sometimes expensive. The FAA considers that, in 
the interest of maintaining safe aircraft, prudent operators would 
accomplish the required actions even if they were not required to do so 
by the AD. However, the manufacturer, not the FAA, determines if the 
manufacturer will cover the cost of implementing a particular action. 
Therefore, no change in this regard is necessary.
    One commenter requested the immediate adoption of an airworthiness 
directive requiring replacement of the main rotor blades, and expressed 
concern that the FAA was giving more consideration to any financial 
impact on Robinson than to the risk to the flying public. We do not 
agree that immediately requiring replacement of the blades is 
necessary, as we have determined that proper inspection is adequate to 
protect the safety of the fleet for the short term. This proposed AD to 
terminate the inspections by mandating blade replacement after five 
years is intended to allow time for blade manufacture, distribution, 
and installation without causing undue hardship to operations, and to 
protect the long term safety of the fleet.
    One commenter stated that the current method of detecting the 
debonding issue is acceptable provided the inspection is performed 
properly and repainted when necessary to prevent the bonding from being 
exposed to the elements. This commenter disagreed that the problem is 
not a manufacturing problem and expressed concern that the variance in 
design of the blades is contributing to the situation. The commenter 
questioned whether other manufacturers are having similar issues and 
whether the new -7 replacement blades are produced under a different 
manufacturing process to ensure the current problem will be eliminated. 
The FAA disagrees that the cause of the debond is a failure of the 
manufacturing process. The debonding is being caused by the basic blade 
design, which allows erosion of the

[[Page 12650]]

bond line if left unprotected in an erosive environment. The 
replacement blades were redesigned using best practices, engineering 
integrity, and heightened oversight. While we believe the redesigned 
blades will correct the unsafe condition, the FAA cannot guarantee any 
design change will not, in the future, develop a problem that requires 
correction.
    One commenter noted that a previous Civil Aviation Safety Authority 
(CASA) AD required a detailed inspection to determine blade 
airworthiness should any exposed blade skin aft of the skin-to-spar 
bond line be found, and that AD 2011-12-10 only requires refinishing 
the blade should the bond line be found to be exposed, without further 
inspection. The FAA agrees. Due to a typographical error in the AD, the 
requirement to skip further inspection prior to refinishing was caused 
by an incorrect reference to the refinishing paragraph instead of the 
inspection paragraph. A revision to AD 2011-12-10, Amendment 39-16717 
(77 FR 12991, March 5, 2012) was issued on January 3, 2012, so that the 
AD language now refers to the correct paragraph.

FAA's Determination

    We are proposing this AD because we evaluated all the relevant 
information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is 
likely to exist or develop in other products of these same type 
designs.

Related Service Information

    We have reviewed the following Robinson service information:
     Letter titled ``Additional Information Regarding Main 
Rotor Blade Skin Debonding,'' dated May 25, 2007, discussing blade skin 
debonding;
     Rotorcraft Flight Manual (RFM) changes to the Normal 
Procedures Section 4 and Systems Description Section 7, revised April 
20, 2007, for each applicable model helicopter containing a ``caution'' 
about skin-to-spar bond line erosion;
     One Service Letter with two different Nos.: R22 SL-56B and 
R44 SL-32B, both revised April 30, 2010, specifying proper inspection 
and protection (refinishing) of bonded areas; and
     Service Bulletins SB-103 for the Model R22 and SB-72 for 
the Model R44, both dated April 30, 2010, specifying proper inspection 
and protection (refinishing) of bonded areas for certain affected 
blades.
     R44 Service Letter SL-37, dated June 18, 2010, specifying 
the required modifications for a carbureted R-44 to install P/N C016-7 
blades.

Proposed AD Requirements

    This proposed AD would retain the pilot check, recurring 
inspection, and blade refinishing requirements of AD 2011-12-10. The 
pilot check may be performed by an owner/operator (pilot) holding at 
least a private pilot certificate and must enter compliance into the 
aircraft maintenance records in accordance with 14 CFR 43.11 and 
91.417(a)(2)(v). This authorization is an exception to our standard 
maintenance regulations.
    This proposed AD would add a requirement, within five years of the 
effective date, to replace both main rotor blades with the new part-
numbered aluminum blades. Replacing the blades with the new part-
numbered blades would constitute terminating action of the recurring 
inspection requirements.

Costs of Compliance

    We estimate that this proposed AD would affect 1,290 Model R22 
helicopters and 1,353 Model R44 helicopters, for a total of 2,643 
helicopters of U.S. Registry. We estimate that operators may incur the 
following costs in order to comply with this AD:
     Time to perform the before flight check each day is 
negligible.
     Inspecting both blades will require about three work hours 
at an average labor rate of $85 per hour, for a total cost per 
helicopter of $255 and a total cost to the U.S. operator fleet of 
$673,965.
     Replacing both blades on a Model R22 helicopter will 
require about 20 work hours at an average labor rate of $85 per hour 
and required parts will cost $29,808, for a total cost per helicopter 
of $31,508 and a total cost to the U.S. R22 operator fleet of 
$40,645,320 over a 5-year period.
     Replacing both blades on a Model R44 helicopter with 
hydraulically boosted flight controls installed (approximately 1053 
helicopters) will require about 20 work hours at an average labor rate 
of $85 per hour and required parts will cost $43,783, for a total cost 
per helicopter of $45,483 and a total cost to the U.S. R44 operator 
fleet of $47,893,599 over a 5-year period.
     Replacing both blades on a Model R44 helicopter without 
hydraulically boosted flight controls installed (approximately 300 
helicopters) will require modifying the aircraft with hydraulic flight 
controls, which will cost a flat rate (parts and labor) of $40,000, 
which includes the P/N C016-7 blades, and installing the required 
airframe provisions will require about 13 work-hours, at an average 
labor rate of $85 per hour, and required parts will cost $28,199, for a 
total cost per helicopter of $112,247, and a cost to U.S. operators of 
$33,674,100 over a 5-year period.

Authority for This Rulemaking

    Title 49 of the United States Code specifies the FAA's authority to 
issue rules on aviation safety. Subtitle I, section 106, describes the 
authority of the FAA Administrator. ``Subtitle VII: Aviation 
Programs,'' describes in more detail the scope of the Agency's 
authority.
    We are issuing this rulemaking under the authority described in 
``Subtitle VII, Part A, Subpart III, Section 44701: General 
requirements.'' Under that section, Congress charges the FAA with 
promoting safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing 
regulations for practices, methods, and procedures the Administrator 
finds necessary for safety in air commerce. This regulation is within 
the scope of that authority because it addresses an unsafe condition 
that is likely to exist or develop on products identified in this 
rulemaking action.

Regulatory Findings

    We determined that this proposed AD would not have federalism 
implications under Executive Order 13132. This proposed AD would not 
have a substantial direct effect on the States, on the relationship 
between the national Government and the States, or on the distribution 
of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government.
    For the reasons discussed, I certify this proposed regulation:
    1. Is not a ``significant regulatory action'' under Executive Order 
12866;
    2. Is not a ``significant rule'' under the DOT Regulatory Policies 
and Procedures (44 FR 11034, February 26, 1979);
    3. Will not affect intrastate aviation in Alaska to the extent that 
it justifies making a regulatory distinction; and
    4. Will not have a significant economic impact, positive or 
negative, on a substantial number of small entities under the criteria 
of the Regulatory Flexibility Act.
    We prepared an economic evaluation of the estimated costs to comply 
with this proposed AD and placed it in the AD docket.

List of Subjects in 14 CFR Part 39

    Air transportation, Aircraft, Aviation safety, Incorporation by 
reference, Safety.

The Proposed Amendment

    Accordingly, under the authority delegated to me by the 
Administrator,

[[Page 12651]]

the FAA proposes to amend 14 CFR part 39 as follows:

PART 39--AIRWORTHINESS DIRECTIVES

0
1. The authority citation for part 39 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  49 U.S.C. 106(g), 40113, 44701.


Sec.  39.13  [Amended]

0
2. The FAA amends Sec.  39.13 by removing Amendment 39-16717 (76 FR 
35330, June 17, 2011), and adding the following new AD:

Robinson Helicopter Company: Docket No. FAA-2013-0159; Directorate 
Identifier 2012-SW-010-AD.

(a) Applicability

    This AD applies to Model R22, R22 Alpha, R22 Beta, and R22 
Mariner helicopters with main rotor blade (blade), part number (P/N) 
A016-2 or A016-4; and Model R44 and R44 II helicopters with blade, 
P/N C016-2 or C-016-5, certificated in any category.

(b) Unsafe Condition

    This AD defines the unsafe condition as blade skin debonding, 
which could result in blade failure and subsequent loss of control 
of the helicopter.

(c) Affected ADs

    This AD supersedes AD 2011-12-10, Amendment 39-16717 (76 FR 
35330, June 17, 2011).

(d) Compliance

    You are responsible for performing each action required by this 
AD within the specified compliance time unless it has already been 
accomplished prior to that time.

(e) Required Actions

    (1) Before the first flight of each day, visually check for any 
exposed (bare metal) skin-to-spar joint area on the lower surface of 
each blade. The actions required by this paragraph may be performed 
by the owner/operator (pilot) holding at least a private pilot 
certificate and must be entered into the aircraft records showing 
compliance with this AD in accordance with 14 CFR 43.9(a)(1)-(4) and 
14 CFR 91.417(a)(2)(v). The record must be maintained as required by 
14 CFR 91.417, 121.380, or 135.439.
    (2) If there is any bare metal in the area of the skin-to-spar 
bond line, before further flight, inspect the blade by following the 
requirements of paragraph (e)(3) of this AD.
    (3) Within 10 hours time-in-service (TIS), and at intervals not 
to exceed 100 hours TIS or at each annual inspection, whichever 
occurs first, inspect each blade for corrosion, separation, a gap, 
or a dent by following the Compliance Procedure, paragraphs 1 
through 6 and 8, of Robinson R22 Service Bulletin SB-103, dated 
April 30, 2010 (SB103), or Robinson Service Bulletin SB-72, dated 
April 30, 2010 (SB72), as appropriate for your model helicopter. 
Although the Robinson service information limits the magnification 
to 10 x, a higher magnification is acceptable for this inspection. 
Also, an appropriate tap test tool which provides similar 
performance, weight, and consistency of tone may be substituted for 
the ``1965 or later United States Quarter-dollar coin,'' which is 
specified in the Compliance Procedure, paragraph 2, of SB72 and 
SB103.
    (4) Before further flight, refinish any exposed area of a blade 
by following the Compliance Procedure, paragraphs 2 through 6, of 
Robinson R22 Service Letter SL-56B or R44 Service Letter SL-32B, 
both dated April 30, 2010, as appropriate for your model helicopter.
    (5) Before further flight, replace any unairworthy blade with an 
airworthy blade.
    (6) Within 5 years of the effective date of this AD:
    (i) For Model R22 series helicopters, replace blade P/N A016-2 
or A016-4 with a blade, P/N A016-6.
    (ii) For Model R44 series helicopters fitted with hydraulically 
boosted main rotor flight controls, replace blade P/N C016-2 or 
C016-5 with a blade, P/N C016-7.
    (iii) For Model R44 series helicopters without hydraulically 
boosted main rotor flight controls, replace blade P/N C016-2 or 
C016-5 with a blade, P/N C016-7. Prior to installing a blade P/N 
C016-7, verify the helicopter has been modified as required by 
Robinson R44 Service Letter SL-37, dated June 18, 2010, Compliance 
Procedures, paragraphs 1. through 10.
    (iv) Installing blades, P/N A016-6 or P/N C016-7, is terminating 
action for the inspection requirements of paragraphs (e)(1) through 
(e)(4) of this AD.

(f) Special Flight Permit

    Special flight permits will not be issued.

(g) Alternative Methods of Compliance (AMOCs)

    (1) The Manager, Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office, FAA, 
may approve AMOCs for this AD. Send your proposal to: Fred Guerin, 
Aviation Safety Engineer, Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office, 
Transport Airplane Directorate, FAA, 3960 Paramount Blvd., Lakewood, 
CA 90712; telephone (562) 627-5232; email fred.guerin@faa.gov.
    (2) For operations conducted under a 14 CFR part 119 operating 
certificate or under 14 CFR part 91, subpart K, we suggest that you 
notify your principal inspector, or lacking a principal inspector, 
the manager of the local flight standards district office or 
certificate holding district office before operating any aircraft 
complying with this AD through an AMOC.

(h) Additional Information

    The Robinson letter titled ``Additional Information Regarding 
Main Rotor Blade Skin Debonding,'' dated May 25, 2007, which is not 
incorporated by reference, contains additional information about the 
subject of this AD. For service information identified in this AD, 
contact Robinson Helicopter Company, 2901 Airport Drive, Torrance, 
CA 90505; telephone (310) 539-0508; fax (310) 539-5198; or at http://www.robinsonheli.com/servelib.htm. You may review a copy of this 
information at the FAA, Office of the Regional Counsel, Southwest 
Region, 2601 Meacham Blvd., Room 663, Fort Worth, Texas 76137.

(i) Subject.

    Joint Aircraft Service Component (JASC) Code: 6210: Main Rotor 
Blades.

    Issued in Fort Worth, Texas, on February 12, 2013.
Bruce Cain,
Acting Manager, Rotorcraft Directorate, Aircraft Certification Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-04217 Filed 2-22-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4910-13-P