Observer article attacks BAe 146 safety

An article in the 4 June edition of the Observer newspaper attacks the safety of the BAe 146. The article focuses on problems in the type’s ALF502 engines, including the power rollback problem in icing conditions and the cabin fumes issue. In the usual media style, the article includes a few actual facts, and presents them in the worst possible light. Despite frequent use of phrasing such as “Observer investigations have revealed…”, both problems have been well-known for some time. The US FAA issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) on the rollback problem several years ago, restricting flights above 26,000 feet in icing conditions, and then another recently mandating modifications to cure the problem altogether. The modifications involve fitting parts from the Avro RJ’s LF507 engine, which is not susceptible to the rollback problem. Other certification authorities have followed the US lead, with slight variations (Canada had less stringent operating restrictions, which may have played a part in the 30 April AirBC rollback incident). The possibility of engine fumes entering the cabin has also been known for some time, with effects ranging from mild discomfort at the odor to — some allege — severe adverse health effects for cabin and flight crew. Although other types have also been affected by similar problems, the controversy has long dogged the 146, and has been particularly controversial in Australia. BAE Systems issued a rebuttal of the accusation, as did several BAe 146 operators. A BAE Systems spokesman noted that the rollback problem has been known for some time, that procedures for safe operation are well established, and that the on-going modification program will eliminate the problem entirely. The spokesman also noted that various modifications and changes in operational procedures have also been implemented to reduce the cabin fumes problem, and that studies have failed to find any adverse health effects.

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