LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded Cessna airplanes equipped with a part that may have played a role in the crash that killed Louisville City FC co-founder Wayne Estopinal in November of 2018.

The parts in question are ATLAS Active Winglets created by Tamarack, an Idaho company. Winglets are the raised ends of the wing and are meant to alleviate loads on the wing during flight. The winglets designed by Tamarack are controlled by autonomous technology and are not integrated into the flight management system, meaning the pilot cannot control them.

We previously reported the Nolan Law Group in Chicago was looking into the winglets as a possible cause or contribution to the crash in Clark County that killed Estopinal and two others. Thomas Ellis, an attorney from the Nolan Law Group, said the group was also looking into Textron Aviation, the company that manufactures Cessna aircraft and performed repairs on Estopinal’s plane just ten days before the crash.

At the time of his investigation, Ellis believed that this technology may have performed incorrectly during the November flight, causing the plane to roll abruptly at an extreme angle. He had previously called for the FAA to follow the lead of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), who ordered a deactivation of active winglets on April 19 until the technology could be properly evaluated.

The FAA has now done that, grounding Cessna Aircraft Models 525, 525A and 525B--airplanes that have the Tamarack ATLAS winglets installed. In an airworthiness directive issued Friday the FAA said it was following the lead of the EASA’s April directive, which found that “occurrences have been reported in which ATLAS appears to have malfunctioned, causing upset events where, in some cases, the pilots had difficulty to recover the aeroplane to safe flight.” 

Both agencies also noted five reported incidents in which the ATLAS winglets malfunctioned, causing pilots to lose control. Pilots in those incidents were able to safely land their aircraft.

The FAA’s rule takes immediate effect, as the agency has found that “the risk to the flying public justifies waiving notice and comment prior to adoption of this rule,” and does not allow any planes to operate with the ATLAS winglets disabled. All flights are prohibited until a modification of the part is approved by the FAA.

The FAA estimates the grounding will affect 76 aircraft in the United States.

Ellis said he and his fellow attorneys are “pleased the FAA has finally taken action," though they are discouraged by the amount of time it took for the FAA to follow the EASA’s lead.

The Cessna jet carrying Estopinal took off from Clark County Airport in Sellersburg, Ind., in late November headed for Chicago. The plane crashed in a wooded area shortly after takeoff.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the incident.


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