Solution found for plane door issue that caused NWT deaths
Three Canadian companies have come up with a solution to a design flaw in the Cessna 206 that was responsible for the deaths of three people in the Northwest Territories in 2018.
In August 2018, three tourists died in a plane crash on Little Doctor Lake, about 100 km west of Fort Simpson. According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, the pilot and one passenger were able to escape through a front door, but three others could not find their way out through the rear doors and drowned.
The incident prompted the safety board to issue a February 2019 advisory noting that when the flaps on the Cessna 206’s wings are extended, they block the cargo door from opening more than eight centimetres. While the door can be opened fully through a multi-step process, the safety board said the problem posed a serious safety issue.
That sparked North-Wright Airways in Norman Wells, Ron Strobl in Alberta, and Dale Floyd in British Columbia to devise a modification that they believe is a simple way to save lives.
“People trying to open those doors with being upside down, disoriented – we’ve ended up with fatalities and people drowning in the aircraft. That was the real driver for it,” explained Strobl, managing director of Airworthiness Resources Corporation.
Travis Wright, president of North-Wright Airways, describes the Cessna 206 as an ideal plane for smaller operations like taking clients to lodges and fishing camps.
“They’re a great little aircraft that can haul a lot – good capacity for room inside and comfortable,” he said.
Following the crash in 2018, however, the airline was concerned about safety. Wright said the team at North-Wright began working on a solution and reached out to Strobl, a partner on previous projects, with a proposed design.
“Without being able to open that door functionally when the flaps are down, it creates a problem. There was nothing really ever out there to help this solution,” Wright said.
Strobl, in turn, joined forces with Floyd at BC’s Coast Dog Aviation when it transpired he was working on the same problem.
Together, they manufactured a door with a hinged window that can open easily even when the flaps are down.
“When we looked at the simplicity of this, it’s no different than getting out of your car, out of your house,” Strobl said.
“I believe in the element of saving lives – it’s huge, because there’s no second set of rules to operate this door.”
In response to a series of incidents, Transport Canada had restricted operation of the six-seater Cessna 206 to five-seat configurations with two in the front, one in the middle and two in the back.
While that configuration gives passengers an escape route through the front doors, Wright said it means flights can’t carry much gear safely, which isn’t economical for most airlines.
Strobl said with the modified door, the Cessna 206 can go back to having six seats.
The modified door design has been approved for use in Canada, Europe and the United States. Strobl has received interest from South Africa and New Zealand.
“Operators of these aircraft know that this is a potential problem,” he said. “We’re getting orders for this kit because they just want that extra element of safety in the aircraft.”
North-Wright Airways plans to install two of the doors once manufacturing is complete.
“It will absolutely help occupants to get out of the aircraft – in the event that they have to – much more easily, without any issue,” Wright said.
Simpson Air, operator of the aircraft involved in the 2018 Little Doctor Lake incident, said that year it would no longer operate the Cessna 206 on floats.
Clarification: December 16, 2020 – 9:36 MT. This report initially understated the role played by North-Wright Airways in devising the solution for the Cessna 206 flap issue. We’ve since rewritten several paragraphs to better reflect the airline’s involvement in designing the solution.