- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lawmakers from Colorado have asked federal aviation officials to ground a Mitsubishi-made aircraft involved in two fatal crashes in the state in nine months.

Three persons died in incidents in the state on Aug. 4 and Dec. 10 involving the Mitsubishi MU-2B-60.

“I am requesting that you immediately issue a directive to ground all [Mitsubishi MU-2B-60] aircraft until a thorough and complete investigation into its air worthiness can be determined,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, wrote Aug. 4 to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The plane’s manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc., disputes claims that the aircraft is unsafe.

Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat, Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican, Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat, and Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat, all from Colorado, also wrote FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey and asked her to consider grounding the aircraft.

The FAA yesterday said it will re-evaluate the plane. As part of its inquiry, the FAA will examine the aircraft, operational procedures for the plane and pilot training.

An agency spokeswoman said it is too early to determine whether the FAA should ground the plane.

“We won’t hesitate to do that if we have the data to support it,” FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

The FAA re-evaluated Mitsubishi’s MU-2B series of planes after 12 crashes and 16 fatalities in 1983 and 1984, but found no major problems with the aircraft. The agency re-evaluated the plane in 1996, after two more crashes, to investigate its performance in icy conditions and required changes in pilot training and a modification to the plane to improve safety.

It could take the FAA two months to complete its latest re-evaluation, Ms. Duquette said.

Mitsubishi made more than 700 of the twin-engine turboprop aircraft from 1966 to 1986, and 400 are still in use by carriers that use them to haul cargo, shuttle passengers and transport medical patients.

Despite the crashes, the planes are safe, said Ralph Sorrells, deputy general manager for the aircraft product support division of Addison, Texas-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America.

“I don’t see any reason why the FAA would ever ground the plane,” he said.

Instead, he suggested that the FAA require pilots flying the aircraft to undergo more training.

“We’ve long advocated that pilots get more simulator training,” he said. “We’d like to have zero accidents. That’s what we strive for. When some of these things happen caused by inadequate training, it makes me sick. We need to make sure training is adequate.”

Earle Martin, the owner of Houston-based carrier Mid-Coast Air Charter, thinks the plane is safe but endorses more training.

“I don’t think the [Mitsubishi MU-2B-60] requires the same commitment that a nun would make to Jesus, but it requires a commitment,” said Mr. Martin, who has flown the plane since 1989 to haul people and cargo.

The MU-2B-60 aircraft has been involved in 20 fatal crashes since 1983 that killed 70 persons, National Transportation Safety Board records show.

That is a high accident rate, said Mike Miller, a partner at Velocity Group, an aviation consulting firm in the District.

“It warrants further investigation,” Mr. Miller said.

Compared with similar planes, the Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 has crashed more often. The Cessna 441, also a twin-engine turboprop, has been involved in 13 fatal wrecks that killed 38 persons since 1983, the NTSB reported. The twin-engine turboprop Cessna 425 has been involved in eight fatal wrecks that killed 23 persons during the same period.

“The [Mitsubishi MU-2B-60] has had a reputation problem for a long time,” Mr. Martin said. “There are some positive reasons why this airplane compares favorably to other airplanes like it that I could buy. It’s built like a tank.”

Accident investigators haven’t determined the cause of either crash in Colorado that involved the Mitsubishi planes.

In the Dec. 10 accident, pilot Paul Krysiak and co-pilot James Presba had engine problems during takeoff and attempted to return to Centennial Airport south of Denver for an emergency landing when they crashed and died.

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