American Bonanza Society And AOPA Team To Resolve Spar Web
How serious is the Beechcraft
Bonanza-Baron spar web cracking problem? AOPA and the American
Bonanza Society (ABS) are working together to find out. Two
experienced aerospace structures engineers have been contracted to
determine what causes the cracks in the carry-through structure,
bulkhead flanges, and fuselage skins. And more importantly, data
are being collected to determine what are the real safety issues
and if the "cure" is worse than the problem.
The issue directly concerns all owners of Bonanzas, Debonairs,
Travel Airs, and normally aspirated Barons built between 1957 and
the late 1980s.
"But this issue will ultimately affect owners of any older
aircraft, said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of
Government and Technical Affairs. "That's because the FAA has
changed its policy concerning cracks in structural members. Simply
put, no more cracks."
Previously (as was the case for the Beechcraft spar web), the
FAA allowed, with periodic inspection, the existence of some cracks
not deemed to be structurally significant (in many cases, the
cracks could be stop-drilled). But with rising concern about aging
aircraft, the FAA is becoming less tolerant of cracks and other
indicators of metal fatigue.
At the FAA's instigation, Raytheon
Aircraft Corporation (current manufacturer of Beech aircraft)
recently issued mandatory service bulletins requiring inspection
for and repair of any crack in the spar assemblies. And while Part
91 operators don't have to comply with the service bulletins right
now, if the FAA changes the airworthiness directives, the new
service bulletins would become mandatory for everyone.
What that would mean is that aircraft that have continued to be
operated for many years and many hours with known cracks under
continued inspection would no longer be allowed to do so. Owners
would have to install a spar repair kit.
But that brings with it a whole other set of problems.
Installation of the kit is a delicate matter; done improperly, it
may weaken the structure rather than reinforcing it. And there is a
question whether Raytheon can produce enough kits to quickly repair
But there is dispute among various experts about whether the
Bonanza-Baron cracking represents safety risk. Some contend the
area where the cracks are most common is not structural.
This is where AOPA and ABS have
"We've asked the FAA to give us time to develop data and
research the most appropriate means of solving the problem," said
Nancy Johnson, ABS executive director.
In addition to hiring aerospace engineers, ABS is collecting
hard data to help evaluate the scope of the problem. Beechcraft
owners are requested to answer the questionnaire on ABS's Web
"First and foremost, our concern is safety," said AOPA's Cebula.
"This study should answer that. We also want to keep these great
aircraft flying economically. Let's do what really needs to be
done, but let's not fix what isn't really broken."