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FAA issues special airworthiness information bulletin for Piper wing spar issues

The FAA issued AD 2020-26-16 in the wake of a 2018 in-flight wing separation on a Piper PA–28R-201. The accident, which killed the commercial pilot applicant and designated pilot examiner during a practical test, was found to be caused by fatigue cracks in the lower spar cap. The interim AD, among other actions, calls for a one-time inspection of certain lower spar cap bolt holes to help determine the number of cracks present in the fleet.

According to the SAIB, the FAA and Piper found that 115 of 2,880 aircraft reported having crack indications. Twenty-five percent of those indications were later confirmed to be hole damage or corrosion and not a crack.

The SAIB indicated that the inspection reports received by the FAA have indicated the “presence of numerous cracks and hole-quality issues in a significant number of airplanes.”

Concerned with the possibility of additional in-flight wing separations, the FAA is working toward finding a final AD action to address this safety issue. Currently, the actions specified in the SAIB are not mandatory; however, the FAA is seeking voluntary feedback from the pilot community regarding the availability of eddy current inspectors, the Factored Service Hours approach, and any field reports of cracks or damage not already reported, to help determine further action.

“Analysis of the AD inspection data along with additional analysis by various contributors, including Piper and the U.S. Air Force, is guiding the FAA to develop further corrective action. These analyses are indicating a possible need for frequent inspections, and inspections of additional airplanes beyond those initially inspected per AD 2020-26-16, to ensure proactive detection of fatigue cracks.”

AOPA will continue to work closely with the FAA on this significant AD and to collect and disseminate as much information as possible to ensure the AD supports the continued operational safety of the impacted aircraft in the most tailored way. To help AOPA in this effort, owners of airplanes subject to, or potentially subject to, eddy current inspection of wing spars as outlined in an airworthiness directive for Piper PA–28 and PA–32 aircraft are asked to help AOPA understand inspection costs and availability by completing this survey.

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