- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Canadian safety officials said Friday they expect the U.S. to ground Sikorsky S92 helicopters like the one involved in a crash last week in which 17 died.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Les Dorr confirmed that the agency is working on an emergency safety directive related to the Sikorsky S92, but declined to say if the agency would ground the helicopters.

“We are considering issuing an airworthiness directive that would address a safety issue uncovered in this investigation. We will decline to speculate on the specific content or the timing of the directive, because it is still being developed,” Dorr said.

On Friday, investigators examining wreckage of the S92 helicopter that crashed into the ocean off St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, on March 12 found a broken component that they say may have played a central role in the accident, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board said. The component, a broken mounting stud on the S-92 helicopter’s main gearbox filter bowl, was the subject of an “alert service bulletin” issued in January by the manufacturer, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. of Stratford, Conn.

The bulletin said the gearbox filter bowl’s titanium mounting studs should be replaced with steel mounting studs within the next 1250 flight hours or within one year, according to the Canadian safety board.

The safety board said investigators immediately notified the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board of their findings.

“In light of (the safety board’s) discovery, the FAA will be issuing an emergency airworthiness directive stipulating that all operators of Sikorsky S92A helicopters worldwide must install the improved studs in accordance with the existing ASB, before conducting any other flights,” the Canadian agency said in a statement.

The FAA does not have authority over aircraft outside the U.S., but the agency communicates regularly with the aviation safety agencies of other nations.

Paul Jackson, a spokesman for Sikorsky, declined to comment on the broken part or the possible grounding, saying: “We are continuing to assist with the investigation and are encouraged that progress is being made. … Our focus continues to be on ensuring that our operators are fully informed of any steps they should take as information becomes available.”

A Sikorsky fact sheet on the S92 says there are 86 of the helicopters in service in 19 countries, two-thirds of which are used for offshore oil platform transport. The rest are used for search and rescue and airline missions and VIP transport, including transport of heads of state.

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