Aviation Safety Letter 2/2003

Where You Park Can Leave its Mark!

Parked Airplane

On August 8, 2002, a Beech 200 came in to park at a fixed-base operator (FBO) at a major Canadian airport, and was marshaled to a parking spot by an FBO employee. After shutdown, the crew noticed that they had been parked tail-to-tail with a Boeing 727, with about a 100-ft separation. As this was to be a brief holdover, the crew left the aircraft control locks off in case the FBO had to move their aircraft.

The crew returned a few hours later, and did not notice anything unusual during the walk-around or the pre-flight control checks prior to departure. After an uneventful takeoff, the crew noticed the rudder pedals no longer lined up and the rudder trim could not be adjusted. The crew consulted the pilot operating handbook (POH) and the minimum equipment list (MEL), and called their maintenance department via cell phone. After confirming they had positive directional control, they elected to continue the flight to their home base. Maintenance found considerable internal damage to the rudder system, including cracks in the trim jack housing, sheared rivets at the base of the rudder spar, torn skin on the rudder at the hinge points, and distorted bolt holes in the torque tube.

In discussions between the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), System Safety personnel and the management of both the aircraft operator and the FBO, all agreed that the situation could have been avoided, and had the potential to be an extremely serious event. It was determined that the rudder damage, which occurred during the short night holdover, was most likely caused by the jet blast of the departing 727. Given that most of the damage was internal, it would have been very difficult for the pilot to find it during the walk-around if he didn't know what he was looking for. It also took place during a calm night where external damage was not expected.

The company had made a conscious decision to leave the aircraft control locks off for brief holdovers in case the aircraft had to be moved, which in this case would undoubtedly have been a good idea. The company now uses control locks on all holdovers and places a 'No Tow' flag on the nose gear to prevent someone from moving the aircraft when the locks are engaged.

For outsiders looking in, likely without all the exact facts, it would be easy to blame any or all of the people involved in this situation. Instead, let's live by our motto and simply learn from this event. As pilots and aircraft captains, we are ultimately responsible for the proper care, and parking, of the aircraft under our guard. Always make sure your FBO has a total understanding of your aircraft and what needs to be done to protect it, including spacing between other aircraft. Let's never for a moment relinquish this responsibility to a stranger with two flashlights in his hands!

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