DOT calls for renewed focus on flight training

 - September 26, 2006, 10:39 AM

Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead last month called for renewed emphasis to reduce the general aviation accident rate, noting that the number of fatalities and accidents has remained fairly constant over the past few years.

“I think it’s an area we need to pay attention to,” he said at a flight-training seminar co-hosted by the Aviation Safety Alliance (ASA) and the Air Line Pilots Association. “We lose somewhere between 550 and 600 lives a year in 1,000-plus accidents that are investigated [by the NTSB].”

Mead said that in Congressional testimony he drew a parallel with railroad grade crossing fatalities, which have been cut in half over the past dozen years. “I’d like to see us set a goal like that in general aviation,” he said.

The Aviation Safety Alliance is a not-for-profit foundation set up by major airlines in North America and major aerospace manufacturers in 1998 as a resource for journalists on aviation safety-related stories. As of December 31 it became part of the Flight Safety Foundation.

The seminar at the NTSB’s Academy was designed to give journalists some of the “flavor” of the world of the line pilot as well as the type of training they receive.

Pan Am International Flight Academy and ALPA put together an abbreviated line-oriented flight training (LOFT) scenario using Pan Am’s Bombardier CRJ level-D simulator for a flight that was to have gone from La Guardia (LGA) to Washington Dulles but was diverted to Newark because of an equipment malfunction.

The LOFT assumed that the journalist in the right seat was part of a flight crew that had flown from Dulles to LGA on a previous flight. The weather at Dulles was cold, snowy, icy and overcast. The storm that was in the Washington area had not yet moved into the New York area, where the weather was cold and partly cloudy.  

While an unconstrained LOFT would normally take as much as two hours for the first segment, this one was simplified and shortened as much as possible while still remaining plausible.

In a wide-ranging luncheon talk, Mead said he is unsure how many very light jets (VLJ) will be purchased domestically, but he cautioned that “we’ve got to be ready for them.” He predicted that they will become fertile ground for fractional ownership and will be sharing the same airspace as large airliners and regional jets.

“There are a lot of dynamics involved with the microjets,” Mead continued, “beginning with ATC, then maintenance and then human-factors issues, because you could very well have a new generation of pilots make up the core.

“I caution that you’ve got to watch what the methods are on the introduction of microjets into the U.S. market. I don’t know if it’s going to be like the attack of the locusts–as some people are projecting–but I think that’s a pretty big issue.”

Mead also called for stepped-up oversight of maintenance. “I don’t think the relevant issue is whether maintenance is done in-house or by a third-party repair station,” he said.

“I think the real [issue] is to make sure that the airlines and the FAA are keeping pace with the gravitation of oversight.” He said this includes third-party maintenance providers and repair stations located overseas.