NTSB Safety Alert on Fly-In Events
The National Transportation Safety Board issued aviation safety alert SA-053 Thursday, highlighting aviation safety issues pilots may face arriving at major fly-in events. The safety alert comes in advance of two major fly-in events; the April 5 to 10 “SUN ‘n FUN” international fly-in expo, Lakeland, Florida, and the July 25 to 31 “Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Oshkosh,” Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Major fly-in events pose unique challenges including high-density traffic, special flight and communication procedures, a rapidly changing environment, and changes to air traffic control separation standards. The safety alert provides pilots guidance for dealing with the challenges of major fly-in events and stresses the need for them to review FAA Notices to Airmen. “Events like these are a great way to celebrate the joy of aviation,” said John DeLisi, Director of the Office of Aviation Safety at the NTSB, “a little extra planning will help ensure a safe arrival.”
The National Transportation Safety Board plays an incredibly important role in aviation. Its limited, focused resources not only investigate aviation accidents, but also examine similar railroad, highway, marine and pipeline events. The NTSB is a small (less than 400 person) organization, which annually has to fight to get all of the funds and human resources from Congress.
Its statutory authority is prescribed in 49 USC §§1131-1132; there it states “shall investigate or have investigated (in detail the Board prescribes) and establish the facts, circumstances, and cause or probable cause of— …(A) an aircraft accident.” It is pretty clear that the Board is constituted to review an accident, determine its probable cause and then move to the next matter which falls within its jurisdiction.
SA-053, as its numbering suggests, is one of many Safety Advisories which the NTSB has issued.
Going beyond its “investigate and establish probable cause” statutory authority may lead to confusion. Issuing recommendations outside of a closed case may influence the FAA’s exercise of its safety jurisdiction; is that an appropriate role for the NTSB? Initiating its own forums may add to the knowledge of safety, but is that the Board’s function? Even the Board’s highly publicized Most Wanted List (a qualitatively, not quantitatively, derived prioritization) has the potential to influence its future findings of probable cause. These are open questions and should be discussed by the Board, the FAA, industry and Congress.
The details of this Sun ’n Fun and Airventure® warning by the NTSB demonstrate the redundancy between the SA’s and the FAA’s well established and generally available NOTAMs, SAFOs and INFOs. Here is some of the text of SA053:
- “Do your homework! Study the event NOTAM so that you know what to expect when you arrive. The procedures for an event may change from year to year, so be familiar with the NOTAM each year even if you are a regular visitor to the event.
- Be mentally prepared for a challenging and dynamic environment.
- Brief passengers in your aircraft about what to expect during arrival and ask them to help you watch for traffic.
- Keep radio traffic to a minimum in accordance with the published procedures. As you approach the area, monitor the published frequency to hear what other pilots are being told.
- Know your limitations and those of your aircraft. You may be asked to operate in close proximity to other aircraft, make a short approach, follow aircraft that may be slower than your usual approach speed, land at a specific spot on the runway, or expedite takeoff. Brush up on any relevant skills before you go.
- Above all, know that ATC is there to help and support you. If you are uncomfortable with an ATC instruction, landing clearance, or aircraft spacing, fly your aircraft first, and advise ATC if you decide to go around. Any controller will tell you that they would much rather deal with a go-around than an accident!”
The FAA annually issues NOTAMS for these spring and summer fly-ins. It issues also a single document, 42 pages long, with advice very similar to SA053, but includes all of the detailed ATC instructions critical for safe flights there.
These pilot briefings are issued from the same site, in the same format, with the same type of information and at the same time. It is a standard part of preparation for flights to these two EAA events plus other large gathering of aircraft (airshows, conventions, Super Bowls, etc.).
There is no doubt that aviation safety needs both the FAA and the NTSB. Each has its own mission. Redundancy in these fiscal times is a tough issue.
Aviation, all of its stakeholders and elected representatives, should carefully assess the benefits of institutional repetition, and then decide how the NTSB/FAA functions should be defined.