- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Safety officials urged the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday to ground a type of light sport plane they said has broken apart in flight six times, killing 10 people since 2006.

The National Transportation Safety Board requested the agency prohibit further flight by the Zodiac CH-601XL, a single-engine, two-seat plane made from kits sold by Zenith Aircraft Co. of Mexico, Mo.

The NTSB said the most recent fatality occurred on March 3, when a CH-601XL broke apart while cruising near Antelope Island, Utah, killing the pilot.

The board said the plane is susceptible to “aerodynamic flutter,” a phenomenon in which the surfaces of the plane can suddenly vibrate, and if unmitigated, break the plane apart.

The CH-601XL was certified as a special light sport aircraft by the FAA in 2005, the NTSB said. This type of certification doesn’t require that the FAA approve the airplane’s design. Instead, the airplane model is issued an airworthiness certificate if the manufacturer asserts that the plane meets industry-accepted design standards and has passed a series of ground and flight tests, the board said.

“The NTSB does not often recommend that all airplanes of a particular type be prohibited from further flight,” acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said in a statement. “In this case, we believe such action will save lives. Unless the safety issues with this particular Zodiac model are addressed, we are likely to see more accidents in which pilots and passengers are killed in airplanes that they believed were safe to fly.”

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said the agency decided in February to form a special team of experts to work with NTSB, as well as Dutch and British safety authorities, to try to determine if there is a manufacturing or design problem with the planes. The craft is sold in the U.S. and Europe. She said no decision has been made whether to ground the planes.

Chris Heintz, founder of Zenair Ltd., which leases the plane’s design and marketing rights to Zenith, did not return a phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Other CH-601XL accidents cited by the board:

_ On Feb. 8, 2006, near Oakdale, Calif., a plane crashed after its wings collapsed, killing two.

_ On Nov. 4, 2006, a plane broke up in flight while cruising near Yuba City, Calif., killing two.

_ On Feb. 5, 2008, a plane crashed near Barcelona, Spain, after its wings folded up during a descent shortly before landing, killing two.

_ On April 7, 2008, a plane broke up in flight near Polk City, Fla., killing one.

_ On Sept. 14, 2008, a plane crashed in the Netherlands, killing two.

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On the Net:

Zenith Aircraft Co.: https://www.zenithair.com

Federal Aviation Administration: https://www.faa.gov

National Transportation Safety Board: https://www.ntsb.gov

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