Saturday, January 7, 2012

SeaPort's chosen plane, Cessna Caravan, has history of accidents, icing problems

Courtesy SeaPort Airlines
SeaPort Airlines' Cessna Caravan passenger aircraft.
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YAKIMA, Washington — For SeaPort Airlines, future success lies in a nine-seat single-engine turboprop.

In the last two months, the Portland-based company has increased the number of Cessna Caravan aircraft it has as part of its stronger focus on serving smaller and underserved markets, such as Yakima.

But for some, the Cessna Caravan raises concerns because of the aircraft's past involvement in a number of plane crashes, including an Oct. 7, 2007, crash near White Pass that killed 10 people returning from a skydiving trip. Kapowsin Air Sports, a Shelton-based company that led the skydiving event, owned the plane.

Since Cessna begin building the aircraft in the 1980s, the plane has been involved in more than 150 accidents worldwide, leading to more than 330 deaths, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a database complied by Harro Ranter, an aviation enthusiast from The Netherlands.

SeaPort president Rob McKinney said he believes that the aircraft's past won't affect the company's ability to market the service. The nearly 4-year-old airline has not had any accidents since using the Cessna Caravans.

"Unfortunately, aircraft accidents do happen from time to time, but (it shouldn't) indict the Cessna Caravan," he said.

Experts have said the aircraft is limited in its deicing abilities, creating problems for pilots in extremely icy conditions. The crash near White Pass happened when a cold front came through the area, which likely led to problematic conditions.

In the past, aviation regulators in the U.S. and Canada have issued warnings to pilots to avoid flying the non-pressurized aircraft in icy conditions.

Yakima Air Terminal manager Lee Remmel said the plane continues to function normally in other roles, such as in freight delivery for FedEx.

Dick Pingry, a longtime fixture in the local general aviation community, pointed out that many of the accidents in the plane stemmed from error or inexperience from the pilot, not the plane itself.

In November 2007, the FAA implemented icing condition training requirements for people flying the Cessna Caravans.

Since then, there have been about two dozen accidents -- including eight in the U.S. -- involving the aircraft, a small number considering that thousands of Cessna Caravans are in use.

"It's like saying a car is unsafe because someone drove it into a ditch," Pingry said. "Between Wenatchee, Portland and Yakima, there might be some extreme weather that might cancel flights," he said

"But I would say 99 percent of the time the airplane is suitable for flying on that route without any difficulty."

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