2012 NTSB study points at poor experimental amateur-built safety EAA, GAJSC, FAA and industry work to reduce risks Last year's results show great promise
In 1995, DOT Secretary Pena declared that aviation would have “one level of safety”. While his intent was to raise the level of safety for commuter airlines, the literal statement was not accurate then, nor is it now. The FARs define escalating standards- from General aviation (in particular, experimental and home built aircraft) all the way up to the exacting standards of commercial airlines. The rationale is that the highest criteria apply to airplanes which carry the general public and that individuals, who choose to build and fly their own aircraft (limitations on who may fly in these planes and where they may fly) are afforded greater regulatory flexibility. Experimental and Homebuilt fit that second risk profile; their regulatory regime is quite different from Parts 121, 135, etc.
In 2012, the NTSB highlighted that “Experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft represent nearly 10 percent of the U.S. general aviation fleet, but these aircraft accounted for approximately 15 percent of the total—and 21 percent of the fatal—U.S. general aviation accidents in 2011.” Drilling down in those numbers, the Board pointed out that a total of 34 crashes occurred during Phase I flight testing. More than half of the accidents involved aircraft that were purchased used, again with crashes often happening shortly after the airplanes were bought. About 10 percent of all E-AB accidents in 2011 happened on very first flight, the NTSB said.
The Experimental Aircraft Association took those recommendations and consulted with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board to design actions to reduce fatal accidents. First, the association co-chaired the FAA General Aviation Joint Steering Committee.
It created the Founder’s Innovation Prize competition that seeks innovations to reduce loss-of-control accidents in amateur-built aircraft; a focus on transition and recurrent training; and use of an additional safety pilot during initial flight testing in amateur-built aircraft.
“These efforts build upon EAA’s longstanding Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor programs, and additional safety materials available through EAA’s flagship Sport Aviation magazine,” Sean Elliott, vice president of Advocacy and Safety for EAA said. “Further reducing the accident totals is a continuing challenge, but one that is foremost as part of EAA’s mission to grow participation in aviation.”
Sean Elliott announced some very strong numbers:
- For the 12-month period from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, fatal accident totals in amateur-built aircraft were down 18 percent to just 27, compared with 33 during the 2016 fiscal year.
- That continues a four-year trend that has seen a total drop of 47 percent in fatal accidents, despite an increasing amount of flight hours each year over that period.
- The specific totals compare to 40 amateur-built aircraft fatal accidents during the 2015 fiscal year and 51 in the 2014 fiscal year.
- In addition, fatal accident totals for the experimental category overall, including racing aircraft, those used for exhibit only, research-and-development, and some types of light-sport aircraft, dropped as well.
- Total fatal accidents fell from 49 to 45 during the 12-month measurement period ending September 30, 2017. The final figures are nearly 25 percent below the FAA’s “not-to-exceed” goal of 59 fatal accidents for that period.
Elliott added that “[t]hese are historic lows for fatal accident in amateur-built aircraft and this continuing trend is a credit to everyone who is focusing on safety. The overall fatal accident numbers remain much lower than other recreational pursuits, such as paddle sports, skiing and snowboarding, and driving all-terrain vehicles. Statistics even show that being involved in a fatal amateur-built aircraft accident is less likely than being killed in a lightning strike incident.”
The GAJSC listed the contributions which its teams had provided for this class of flying:
Recent accomplishments include more than 39 safety enhancements, (such as training, procedures, and technology) to address loss of control. Examples include a streamlined policy for angle of attack (AOA) system approvals and outreach to the GA community on loss of control topics. With powerplant system and component failures being the third leading fatal GA accident category, the GAJSC analyzed fatal GA accidents involving total or partial engine power loss. The GAJSC approved and initiated implementation of ten SEs directed at engine issues and focus on improving engine technology, aiding the pilot in decision making post-engine failure, and improving resources available to mechanics, as well as their education and training.
The GA JSC began its study into Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents in October 2017 and will finish its work sometime in 2018. CFIT is the second largest risk in GA.
Other achievements include several web-based resource guides, information on flying and medications, and overall GA community coordination on Loss of Control and engine issue topics. Resources include targeted themes and articles in the FAA Safety Briefing magazine.
The GA community and the FAA are moving toward using de-identified GA operations data in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS)program to help identify risks before they become accidents. In March of 2014 the FAA started a one-year project to illustrate the value, capabilities, and benefits of the ASIAS program for the GA community. The project explored potential new information sources such as General Aviation Flight Data Monitoring, voluntary safety reports, manufacturer reports, and information collected from avionics and using new common technologies such as iOS and Android personal electronic devices.
This project led to a broader expansion of GA in ASIAS. Tools are now available to the GA community to help explore and understand their own flight data and look for potential risks. Through this program, the FAA does not have access to any individual pilot’s data as the system is hosted by a third party. The de-identified aggregate data is used by the GA community through ASIAS to identify trends and look for system risks that may need to be mitigated. Data from these programs will be used for GA JSC initiatives and research conducted by the GA community. The GAJSC is working with the community to incorporate their data into ASIAS so that it may be used to identify risk.
Though the FAA strictures for E-AB are minimum levels of safety, there is nothing to preclude EAA, its members and industry to reduce the risk in their flying. AND THEY HAVE, BUT THERE IS MORE TO COME.
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