Confronted with years of stubborn and static accident statistics for general aviation operations, the NTSB is taking more aggressive actions in an attempt to reduce the number of crashes. Last month, the independent safety agency issued five GA Safety Alerts, to be followed later this spring by a series of videos.
A Safety Alert is a brief information sheet that pinpoints a particular safety hazard and offers practical remedies to address the issue. Three of the Safety Alerts focus on topics related to some of most common defining events for fatal GA accidents. These include low-altitude stalls, spatial disorientation and controlled flight into terrain, as well as mechanical problems. The other two Safety Alerts address risk mitigation for pilots and mechanics.
The videos will feature the Board’s regional air safety investigators sharing their experiences and observations about the many accident investigations they have conducted as well as thoughts on how pilots and mechanics can avoid mistakes that can have such tragic consequences.
“GA is essentially an airline or maintenance operation of one, which puts the responsibility for sound decision-making on one person’s shoulders,” said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman. “We are promoting and distributing the alerts to reach pilots and mechanics who can benefit from these lifesaving messages.”
One of the most poignant accidents recounted by NTSB investigators (most of whom are GA pilots) was that of a pilot and his three sons who were killed when he lost control of his Mooney M20J over mountainous terrain. Before the flight, the pilot had obtained weather briefings that included advisories for mountain obscuration, turbulence and icing.
Adverse weather conditions had already prompted the pilot to cancel his plans to fly the trip, and he had made alternative arrangements for himself and his sons to travel home on a commercial flight. However, when the airline canceled the flight (for reasons not related to weather), the pilot decided to make the trip in the Mooney. The investigation identified various safety issues, including evidence that the pilot’s self-imposed time pressure adversely affected safety on several fronts.
General aviation safety first made the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of safety improvements in 2011 and remains on the list for 2013. Over the past decade, the number of GA accidents has averaged more than 1,500 a year, or more than four every day. More than 5,200 people died in these accidents.
“During this time period, the GA accident rate has plateaued, with repeated crashes and needless loss of life,” Hersman said in an opening statement at the beginning of last month’s meeting of the full NTSB board. She noted there is much safety work being done across the GA community through efforts such as the GA Joint Steering Committee, with its FAA and AOPA co-chairs; and by other organizations such as the Flight Safety Foundation, NBAA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association.
“[T]oday we meet to discuss what we, the NTSB, can do to help bring the accident rate down,” Hersman explained. She listed three steps: understanding what is causing the accidents, identifying preventive strategies and getting the word out to the GA community.
The NTSB is charged with investigating every civil aviation accident, and its investigators see firsthand the causes and contributors. Last year, the Safety Board held a two-day forum drawing on experts across the GA community.
“It’s why GA safety is on our Most Wanted List and why one of our Board members, Earl Weener, is leading those activities,” Hersman said. “It’s also why we have a team of safety experts to build on what they have learned in years of investigating GA accidents.”