Lawmakers press FAA to address aircraft icing

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers tired of waiting after 13 years pressed Federal Aviation Administration officials on Wednesday to implement safety recommendations related to aircraft icing.

It's unacceptable that the FAA hasn't proposed regulations requiring aircraft manufacturers to show their planes can fly safely in all kinds of icy weather, said Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee, at a hearing.

The recommended changes matter most for turboprop planes used by regional airlines and for small, private planes because they spend more time flying at lower altitudes and are more likely to encounter poor weather. Between 1998 and 2007, there were 229 deaths in accidents involving small commercial airliners and private planes, according to the Government Accountability Office. There were six icing-related accidents involving large airliners during the same period and no deaths.

The main concern is weather in which rain freezes into ice the moment it hits aircraft surfaces. The ice changes the shape of a plane's wings and could cause the aircraft to stall and plummet.

Since the 1994 crash of an American Eagle turboprop airliner in Roselawn, Ind., which killed 68 people, the National Transportation Safety Board has been urging the FAA to ensure that all planes it certifies as flight-worthy can fly safely in such conditions. The NTSB, which put the recommendation on its "most wanted" list of safety improvements, also wants the FAA to require planes already in service be adapted to meet new safety criteria for those particular icing conditions.

FAA has been working on the issue for more than a decade, but substantial research was required to develop a solution, John Hickey, an FAA safety official, told the subcommittee. He said he expects FAA to propose new regulations by mid-June.