The notion of an undetected fault in an electrical system of a new jet, in this case the Cirrus Aircraft S-50 Vision Jet, is bad, and when that fault is only found after it has caused a fire, in this case a ground fire on a Gen 1 S-50 on the ground at Santa Monica, well, we can all agree that’s way worse. And when the FAA issues an emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) grounding the entire fleet, well, does it get any worse than that? While this is the take that several aviation media outlets had on the AD and the “grounding,” the truth is far more pedestrian and far less sensationalistic.
Here’s what happened: On December 27th, a pilot was preparing to fly his Vision Jet from Santa Monica for a quick hop down to Palomar, outside San Diego. After a walk-around pre-flight, the pilot proceeded with the start check, but soon after he’d started the engine, a haze of smoke got worse–he’d previously noticed a bit of haze. He shut down the engine, called for a mechanic, who arrived with fire extinguisher in hand, but by then the smoke, which was coming from the right, center-row seat area, was getting worse. A few minutes later, it was a full fledged fire. According to the NTSB’s preliminary report, the cabin had become engulfed in flames within minutes. The end result was not pretty, but at least no one got hurt.
After that the story is quite a bit different, and a part of how it’s being discussed and reported on in the mainstream press most likely has to do with a common misunderstanding of the AD process.
As is often the case, before the FAA could put out a mandatory AD on the SF50, the manufacturer had already issued a service bulletin. And like all service bulletins, it’s advisory in nature. It’s the FAA that can ground a plane, and it did, with the affected Vision Jets.
A fleet-wide grounding! Well, only kind of. By the time the FAA had issued its Emergency AD, Cirrus had not only issued its Service Bulletin but had already made the fixes to 97% of the fleet, which were all then cleared to do what airplanes do, go flying. The push to make the fixes, once the faulty part was found, is perhaps if not a better story than at least a truer one. In the course of a week, Cirrus’s Senior VP of Sales and Marketing Ben Kowalski told Plane & Pilot, the company had done all the communications, gotten all the airplanes into the shop, got them taken apart—it wasn’t a short fix. Kowalski said it was several hours of labor per airplane—signed off and returned to service. And that was with 170 airplanes.
Of course Cirrus, wants to present the best version of events, so take it with a grain of salt. But to get 165 out of 170 affected jets into the shop and fixed within a week is an achievement Kowalski said the company was proud of.
Oh, and the faulty part: a 3.5-inch audio jack circuit board that self-destructed and took the plane with it. All 165 out of 170 planes have had all of their bad jacks replaced—there are several of them in every airplane.
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