Flight Safety Foundation/NBAA Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar: Forum addresses current challenges

 - October 16, 2006, 6:35 AM

“This is the largest turnout we’ve had in the 50 years we’ve been holding the Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar,” Ed Williams, Flight Safety Foundation’s (FSF) chairman, told the more than 370 attendees in his opening remarks.

Williams urged everyone in corporate aviation to become a media source in their community. “We must counter the public’s negative image of corporate aviation as being a perk or toy of the rich.”

During his welcoming comments NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen cautioned that the Air Transport Association has a working group dedicated to finding a way to implement a new user fee for general aviation.

“The airlines feel they’re paying 93 percent of the cost of the ATC IFR system but using only 60 percent of it,” Bolen said. “They attribute corporate aviation to using 30 percent of the system and paying an insignificant amount to support it, but activity doesn’t equal cost,” he said.

“The IFR system was made to support the airlines. If corporate aviation ceased to exist and never used the system again, the cost wouldn’t go away. The system would have to continue to operate for the airlines; we are only a marginal user,” he added.

Bolen pointed out that the two most powerful lobby groups in Washington, the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Rifle Association, rely heavily on grass-roots support to make their agenda heard in Congress. He admonished the audience to get engaged in the issue and contact their elected officials.

This year’s CASS theme was “Aviation Safety–Contemporary Challenges.” Many of the 16 formal presentations reflected an industry trend toward focusing more on soft rather than hard issues.

Evaluating the Safety Record

In his statistics-based presentation, “Safer Approaches and Landings: A Multivariate Analysis of Critical Factors,” Durwood Heinrich, Ph.D., reviewed accidents in the terminal environment, underscoring what Dr. Stan Roscoe, often called the father of aviation psychology, has said for many years: “If you want to avoid accidents, avoid airports.”

Heinrich’s data indicates that 17 percent of all accidents and 22 percent of all fatalities occur during the takeoff and initial climb segments, while 51 percent of all accidents (18 percent of all fatalities) occur during the final approach and landing segments.

During his presentation, “Corporate Aviation Safety Profile, Trends and Issues,” Robert Matthews, Ph.D., analysis team leader for the FAA’s Office of Accident Investigation, clarified government definitions of corporate versus business aviation used in accident analysis. He said the NTSB and FAA define business aviation as “any use of an aircraft (not for compensation or hire) by an individual for transportation required by the business in which the individual is engaged.”

Corporate/executive aviation is “any use of an aircraft by a corporation, company or other organization, not for compensation or hire, for the purpose of transporting its employees and/or property, and employing professional pilots for the operation of the aircraft.

“From 2000 through 2004, U.S. corporate aviation has averaged fewer than six accidents per year and 1.6 fatal accidents per year,” he reported. “The fatal-accident rate for corporate aviation, however, remains higher than that for airlines operating under FAR Part 121. For the years 1998 through 2004, corporate aviation had 0.066 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours, compared with 0.010 for airlines.”

Matthews said analysis shows the key elements of a safe flight department are a professional flight crew and organizational support that emphasizes the importance of and practices avoiding excessive flight crew schedules and not pressuring pilots when conditions aren’t conducive to safe flight. Other elements include quality maintenance, an aircraft fleet dominated by sophisticated aircraft with sophisticated avionics, and operation predominantly within the IFR ATC system and generally to and from “better equipped airports.”

Matthews pointed out that loss-of-control accidents during takeoff and climb as well as approach-and-landing accidents, excluding controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), have decreased over the past 20 years. During the same period, he added, there have been modest improvements in the rates of CFIT and loss-of-control accidents.

Matthews cited upgrades in the corporate fleet such as new-generation turboprops and a “revolution” in the number of corporate jets as reasons for fewer system-component and powerplant failures. “Each new generation intro- duces more reliable systems, better avionics, better cockpit displays and so on.”

VLJ Operations

A presentation that garnered more than casual interest was “Risk Management of the VLJ.” Richard Walsh, a member of NBAA’s safety committee and vice president of flight operations and business continuity for Cardinal Health, expressed his concerns about the anticipated arrival of the very light jet (VLJ).

Walsh, who is also an aviation safety consultant, predicted, “The introduction of very light jets into the business jet market will mark the beginning of a new era in personal air travel. It will bring the relatively inexperienced single-pilot operators of reciprocating aircraft into the high-altitude and high-speed regime of subsonic flight.

“It will bring an aviation culture change not seen since the 1950s and a new set of risks not yet imagined for jet aircraft. My biggest concern with the VLJ is speed management in the approach environment,” he said.

He expressed concern that because VLJs will share an operating environment with heavier jets there will be little distinction between a VLJ weighing 8,000 pounds or less and corporate jets of 20,000 pounds or more. “The VLJ will weigh less than many popular turboprop cabin-class twins yet will be capable of operating near the upper limits of civilian airspace as well as being integrated into the traffic patterns of America’s high-density airports. The mindset of ATC and the owner-operators must be adjusted to recognize the vulnerability of these lightweight and high-performance aircraft,” he said.

“It will be necessary to incorporate training methodologies from the airline world, specifically the Advanced Qualifications Program, and blend them with the FAA Industry Training Standards,” he concluded.

Walsh emphasized the certification system would have to change to meet the challenges of the VLJ. He said rather than emphasizing maneuvers-based training, VLJ training will have to include operational and decision-making skills, resource management, autoflight utilization and risk mitigation.

Staying Fitfor Medical Certification

For the fourth year in a row, Dr. Quay Snyder, M.S.P.H., president of Virtual Flight Surgeons, gave a presentation. This year, in presenting his paper “FAA Medical Certification: Current Policies, Waivers and Exam Tips,” Snyder talked about the disparity between what flight departments do to maintain pilot currency and health. According to Snyder, most take a structured, proactive attitude when it comes to maintaining pilot currency and certification but pay scant attention to medical certification.

Snyder explained that the average physician has little or no exposure to aviation medicine and FAA requirements. Unfortunately, the FAA does little to promote an understanding; it does not even publish specific guidelines. “In addition to the lack of specific published guidance and continuously changing FAA policy, other factors contribute to the mystery of the aeromedical certification process,” he explained. “There is significant variability in aviation medical examiner knowledge of aviation medicine, a lack of experience in waiver processing and limited willingness to assist pilots in dealing with FAA bureaucracy.”