Flight Safety Foundation has prepared a new safety aid called the Functional Check Flight Compendium.
It isn’t only pilots who are subjected to check rides. Aircraft are, too. Functional check flights (FCFs) are typically performed after heavy maintenance or transfer to a new owner or lessor. Their purpose is to make sure that everything on the aircraft works as it should.
FCFs involve risks beyond those of ordinary line flying. Some checks involve shutting down a necessary system in flight to see if it can be restored. These flights test backup on seldom-used systems or functions and involve procedures normally not used in line operations.
For example, in January 2009, a Boeing 737 was undergoing an elevator power–off flight test west of Norwich, Norfolk, England. “During the check, the aircraft pitched rapidly nose down, descending approximately 9,000 ft before control was recovered,” said the report by the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch. “A number of maintenance and airworthiness check issues were identified.”
Because several accidents and serious incidents have pointed out the unusual risks associated with FCFs, Flight Safety Foundation organized an FCF steering team comprising representatives from Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier and Embraer to address the issues. Their effort first bore fruit in 2011 with a highly successful symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Delegates — 285 from 41 countries —representing aircraft manufacturers, regulators and operators attended.
That was only a first step. In anticipation of pending regulations by the European Aviation Safety Agency for FCFs, currently at the stage of a notice of proposed amendment, the Foundation and the steering team continued their work. Prior to and during a meeting at FSF headquarters in July 2012, the team hammered out the basic framework of the compendium.
The Functional Check Flight Compendium includes several components.
A paper by Harry Nelson, experimental test pilot for Airbus, discusses selection and training of the right people for the task, planning and preparation, execution, and what to do if maneuvering goes wrong.
A guidance document is divided into preparation, ground checks and — the longest section — flight checks. The flight checks section is subdivided into modules for various systems and procedures: for example, electrical system, engine relight, flight controls, landing gear and takeoff.
In addition, the compendium contains all the material presented at the Vancouver symposium.
Watch for the Functional Check Flight Compendium on the FSF website.
— Jim Burin
Director of Technical Programs