The NTSB has placed General Aviation (GA) safety on its most wanted list. Despite the best efforts of the FAA and organizations like Aircraft Owners Pilots Association (AOPA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and others to advance their performance, each year, hundreds of people, 453 in 2010, are killed in Part 91 accidents and thousands more are injured. The Part 91 GA community continues to have the highest aviation accident rates in civil aviation: six times higher than small commuter and air taxi operations and over 40 times higher than scheduled air carriers. What is most discouraging is that the causes of Part 91 GA accidents are usually a repeat of previous accidents.
Over the last 10 years the number of fatalities has come down a little, but the accident rate and the fatal accident rate per 100,000 flight hours has remained steady at 6.5-7.2 (accident rate) and 1.2 – 1.39 (fatal accident rate).
The NTSB has made specific recommendations as to what can be done to reduce the Part 91 GA accident rate including pilot training, aircraft design and equipment improvements and weather information resources, just to name a few examples. Whether the upcoming NTSB General Aviation Safety Forum will result in new ideas or approaches is yet to be seen.
One suggestion that should be given strong consideration is to establish a General Aviation Safety Team ( call it GAST) and model it after the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST),.CAST was established jointly by the FAA and industry in 1998, using an integrated, data- driven strategy to reduce the commercial aviation fatality risk and develop industry safety initiatives. The success of CAST prompted the helicopter industry in 2005 to establish a similar program called the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST). The CAST and IHST programs and processes work and have made great strides in improving safety for their respective communities. There is no reason that a similar approach for addressing GA safety should not be initiated – what’s the worst that could happen – the GA accident rate could remain unchanged!