Post-Accident or Incident Aircraft Recovery Considerations

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Sofema Online (SOL) – considers best practices and challenges related to the recovery of aircraft suffering from accidents & incidents.

Having aircraft recovery processes & procedures in place is essential for efficient airport operations, closing a runway even for a short time typically creates a significant problem with associated costs and loss of revenue for example related to aircraft diversions and flight airspace.

Introduction - Please watch the following video

Concerning Removal of Wreckage (FAA) - 49 CFR Preservation of aircraft wreckage, mail, cargo, and records.

» The operator of an aircraft involved in an accident or incident for which notification must be given is responsible for preserving to the extent possible any aircraft wreckage, cargo, and mail aboard the aircraft, and all records, including all recording mediums of flight, maintenance, and voice recorders, pertaining to the operation and maintenance of the aircraft and to the airmen until the Board takes custody thereof or a release is granted pursuant to § 831.12(b) of this chapter.
» Prior to the time the Board or its authorized representative takes custody of aircraft wreckage, mail, or cargo, such wreckage, mail, or cargo may not be disturbed or moved except to the extent necessary:

o To remove persons injured or trapped;
o To protect the wreckage from further damage; or
o To protect the public from injury.

» Where it is necessary to move aircraft wreckage, mail or cargo, sketches, descriptive notes, and photographs shall be made, if possible, of the original positions and condition of the wreckage and any significant impact marks.
» The operator of an aircraft involved in an accident or incident shall retain all records, reports, internal documents, and memoranda dealing with the accident or incident, until authorized by the Board to the contrary.

General Comments Concerning Moving of Wreckage

» If the accident involves personal injury or death, the aircraft wreckage should not be removed without clearance from the National CAA and the aircraft owner.

o However, if aircraft or parts must be moved prior to the completion of a full investigation (because they represent a hazard to life or property), a record must be made of the locations of all parts, and care exercised to preserve any evidence that might help determine the cause of the accident.
o As soon as practical following an incident, the owner or operator shall be advised that the aircraft must be removed.
o Following removal of the wreckage, the responsible airport authorities must inspect the runway/taxiway pavement and surrounding surfaces for damage and debris and, if satisfactory, the airport may be reopened to air traffic.
o If a runway is to remain closed, it should be marked according to the ICAO SARPs provisions in Annex 14.

Definition of Disabled Aircraft:

» Any aircraft that is unable to move under its own power or through the normal use of an appropriate tow tractor and the tow bar is considered to be a disabled aircraft.

o Examples are: One or more of the landing gears is off the hard surface of a runway, taxiway, or apron, the aircraft is bogged down in mud or snow, one or more landing gears collapsed or damaged, and the aircraft is considered to be economically repairable.

Aircraft Recovery Categories In accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 14, Chapter 9.3 and Airport Services Manual Part 5, Aircraft Recovery accidents are divided into two categories, Large Aircraft, and Small Aircraft.

Here consider recovery operations in three categories:

» Light (Category I) (Is when an aircraft departs the runway with one or more of its landing gears, the landing gears are fully extended and locked, and the aircraft can be towed on its own.)
» Medium (Category II) (Is when one or more landing gears are not or only partially extended. After lifting the aircraft, gears can be extended/locked or repaired and the aircraft can be towed on its own.)
» Heavy (Category III) (Is when one or more landing gears are separated from the aircraft structure, or are so heavily damaged that the aircraft cannot be towed on its own landing gears.)

Aircraft Recovery Operations Legal Aspects

» International: International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) - International Standards and Recommended Practices, ICAO Annex 14, chapter 9.3
» Airport Service Manual Part 5, Removal of Disabled Aircraft (Third Edition 1996)
» National: National Laws & Aviation Regulations Local:
» State Laws & Aviation Regulations
» Airport User Regulations/Agreements Airport Emergency Plans

Areas of Concern & Consideration

» Weight and center of gravity (cg) management. Aircraft must be moved in accordance with Centre of Gravity limitations for safe movement and protection from further damage.
» How to remove fuel from the aircraft – safely.
» How to remove Cargo & Baggage from the aircraft.

Next Steps

Sofema Aviation Services provides specific support related to ERP Training, Testing & Preparation of Processes & Procedures. For additional details, please visit or email

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