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.”
Joe Spence (not verified)
April 3, 2013 - 7:21am
It seems a bit ironic that while NTSB strives to improve the safety record of GA, the other side of the Federal Goverment decides that saving money at the expense of safety is more important.
Terry D Welander (not verified)
April 3, 2013 - 11:33am
Aircraft are still at least 3 times safer than autos. While the NTSB inputs are helpful, they will not likely reach the pilots necessary to reduce the aircraft
accident rate. And if they do, the pilot judgment that enters in will likely preclude application of the NTSB remedies because they require not only timely identification to implement, but recognizing a potential hazard in the first place.
Or, the it will not happen to me mentality is and will always likely be substantial.
Which also means adding substantial or noticeable time to flight planning and pre flighting aircraft which a significant minority of pilots will just not do beyond the existing checklists; which are already substantial. Or, being smart and highly observant of existing conditions and the particular and potential hazards associated with any particular flight, and what extra precautions to take for any given situation, takes much experience to acquire; generally not acquired in instruction or lectures in my experience.
Only when you experience an adverse event for yourself does it take on any real
significance, unfortunately. Even planning and pre flighting for the most common hazards beyond the standard check lists can double to triple the planning and pre flight time. Why only experience is likely to save people
or reduce the small aircraft accident rate.
The best bet appears to be incorporating common adverse flight into initial flight
training, sometime after solo but before a check ride, similar to introductory instrument flying time given to students, so new pilots have experienced some of the many different but most common severities in adverse flight. Or have acquired an awareness of the significance of adverse flight conditions; and will consider them smartly and selectively when flight planning and pre flighting.
Like: accidently flying into a cloud or clouds, accidently flying over an over cast and how to get safely down as part of instrument training, experiencing wind shear at common locations, especially on approach and landing, accidently flying into carb ice conditions, or wing or fuselage ice conditions; doing one to several of these hazards for real with substantial and extra safety built into the instruction. Flying in busy airspace with the hazards both pre briefed, pointed out in flight and debriefed so the chance of forgetting the experience details are very small.
Though the NTSB needs to focus on the real and huge problem, auto accidents.
matt (not verified)
April 3, 2013 - 12:00pm
Need to be careful on this issue. When the NTSB thought it needed to look into skydiving, their proposals would have shut down the industry altogether. Depending on what the NTSB has in mind, their actions on this could do the same thing to GA.
Terry D Welander (not verified)
April 4, 2013 - 10:07pm
Government threats against personal, constitutional, the bill of rights, and privacy in particular have been an almost daily American event for at least 50 years, probably the entire life of the nation to date. What you fail to recognize, is the vast majority of congressional string pullers (the rich who finance the political campaigns) love these basic freedoms even more than the average person. And usually make sure their Congressman and Senators know it. If you think any government agency is going to shut something down without getting sacked themselves one way or another, you are worse than a dreamer, you are a fool. So stop with the threat suggestions and calling it unintended consequnces. It only makes your young age and immaturity show.
matt (not verified)
April 5, 2013 - 7:18pm
Mmm, a TFR that became the SFRA around DC. Tell that to all the GA businesses in the DC area that have and are still losing money due to a Government Agency's actions. I though the T in TFR meant temporary. There are several states now where their 2nd amendment rights are now being even more restricted. Also I'm so glad you think being in my mid-50's is such a young age!
I have no problem with the NTSB trying to improve the GA accident rate, as long as it does not result in more worthless and restrictive regulations. I stand by my previous statement about NTSB and skydiving.