More than 30 Cessna 208 and 208B Caravans have crashed when their wings iced up in flight. Victims’ families have filed many product defect lawsuits against Cessna, claiming that Cessna concealed from the pilots defects in the aircraft’s deicing system. Silvey v. Cessna is the first case to reach trial. At least the first that I know of.
Silvey, which is pending in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, involves a Caravan that crashed near Parks, Arizona in November 2002. The pilot reported encountering light icing. According to the NTSB report, a short time later, a witness saw the aircraft come spinning out of the clouds with its nose pointed down. All four on board were killed on impact.
After that crash, the FAA issued at least three airworthiness directives against the Cessna Caravan, all concerning the aircraft’s deicing system. Cessna asked the Silvey trial judge, the Honorable Terry Means, to keep the airworthiness directives from the jury. Cessna argued that since the FAA didn't issue the airworthiness directives until after the accident, they are not relevant. The judge declined to rule whether the evidence will come in or stay out. Instead, he ruled that he’d have to see how the trials goes before deciding.
Three of the airworthiness directives at issue are:
- AD 2005-07-01, prohibiting takeoff when there is any ice on the aircraft, and requiring pilots to feel the wings for ice rather than simply inspect visually;
- AD 2006-01-11 requiring owners to modify the aircraft’s deicing system to legally fly in icing conditions; and
- AD 2006-06-06 prohibiting flight in anything other than “light” icing conditions, requiring pilots to maintain higher air speeds when climbing through ice, and advising pilots that the aircraft’s stall warning system cannot be relied on in icing conditions.