Cirrus Crash at Scottsdale Raises Questions About Fuel System Design Safety

Some say that Cirrus aircraft are improperly designed because they tend to catch fire on impact more frequently than other aircraft, such as those manufactured by Cirrus competitors, like Diamond or Cessna. And there are plenty of examples of post-crash Cirrus fires to talk about. Critics argue that those fires prove that the aircraft is unduly dangerous and defective.

An aircraft should be designed such that no one is burned to death in an otherwise Cirrus Fuel Portsurvivable accident. At least, that’s the design standard in the auto industry. It became the standard when, during the 1970's, Bell Helicopters showed that some simple engineering enhancements could virtually eliminate post-crash fires in survivable Huey helicopter accidents.  That technology has been around now for 40 years. The technology works in helicopters and cars, so there’s no reason for a properly designed, modern airplanes to catch fire either.

But the key is that the crash must be otherwise survivable. If the crash is not otherwise survivable, the post-crash fire is irrelevant to the fate of the occupants. To date, the Cirrus fires that critics point to (like this one, and this one) were accidents that likely would have been fatal regardless of whether there was a post crash fire. So from those accidents, no conclusions about the fuel system's safety can be drawn.

But this morning, everything changed. A Cirrus crashed in Phoenix while on approach to land at Scottsdale Airport.  Both the pilot and the passenger survived the impact. But then a fire broke out.  The fire killed one occupant and badly burned the other.   

Unlike other Cirrus crashes, the Scottsdale crash was undeniably survivable. The post - crash fire raises legitimate questions about whether the Cirrus fuel system is as crashworthy as it should be.

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
CirrusPilot - December 16, 2011 3:48 PM

There may be some truth to this. But assuming that the Cirrus fuel system is not crashworthy, there is no data suggesting that the rival Cessnas are any safer, as far as I can tell. Pilots of Brand X planes like to criticize the Cirrus because they can't accept that the Cirrus has a parachute while their plane doesn't.

Kevin - December 16, 2011 11:30 PM

@CirrusPilot - well there is data to support this. No one has ever died from a post-impact fire from a Diamond aircraft have they? Seems to be every crash I've seen in the news involving a Cirrus has been a big fireball. Not good if you ask me.

Frank - December 17, 2011 8:45 AM

Cirrus pilots will not accept any talk that their plane may be dangerous. They assume anyone who would suggest such a thing is an idiot. I have 300 hours in Cirri. I used to be a member of their club. They are closed minded and hostile to anything that might be considered negative. They say they are interested in safety but they aren't they are only interested in convincing themselves that their plane is safe.

Eric - December 19, 2011 11:52 AM

The actually fatality rate from Cirrus Aircraft is substantially higher than virtually any other comparable single engine piston airplane. Approximately one out of 60 Cirrus airplanes ends up as an NTSB fatality compared to about one out of 120 or one out of 200 for other comparable aircraft. The problem is that there is no "smoking gun" which could be easily remedied. The post-accident fire is only one of the issues that the airplane faces.

Mike Danko - December 19, 2011 5:08 PM

Eric-

If you add to the total fatal Cirrus accidents the accidents that would have been fatal but for the parachute, the number is even higher. I'm not sure it's fair to do that, but it is food for thought.

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