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 survivable 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.