Experimental planes becoming safer, officials say

experiemental aircraft safety
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Experimental Aircraft Safety

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Raises Safety Performance

KUDOS to the Experimental Aircraft Association. Against all odds, this set of dedicated fliers has raised its safety performance. 

General Aviation and even more specifically Experimental Aircraft have been on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List for the past five years. Unlike the SMS and CAST initiatives directed at improving airline safety, which is showing substantial gains, the GA/EAA community is not centralized with thousands of individual owners/pilots located around the country. Commercial carriers have the personnel and organization to facilitate the preventative power of Big Data. IT IS DIFFICULT TO COLLECT, COLLATE AND ANALYZE THE NUMBERS WHICH HELP THE FAA AND INDUSTRY TO ACT BEFORE PROBLEMS.

In response to a local experimental aircraft accident, the reporter contacted EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski and he explained that this flying segment has improved. The improvement began with an increased focus on safety and education efforts in the years following the NTSB study. In fact, the number of fatal accidents for experimental planes has decreased in recent years. Knapinski added, “What we’ve seen from that emphasis in safety over the past five years is a significant drop in the number of fatal accidents in amateur-built aircraft…This is a safe pursuit to begin with, but in a safety sense one (fatality) is always too many, so you always want to make sure you can get that number down.”

Experimental Aircraft Safety

The article methodically recited all of the elements of the EAA efforts and assessed them as to the specifics of the local crash as well as the national efforts. Here’s an outline of his lengthy review:

  • The aircraft was well built; the owner took a long course on proper mechanical techniques as a predicate to his construction of his plane.
  • He took 6 years of adhering to a thick stack of blueprints and a binder-full of instructions to assemble his aircraft.
  • He took the plane to be inspected by a Designated Airworthiness Representative, who issued a set of operating limitations, parameters within which to test the plane during its initial hours in flight. For instance, the plane must be flown between 25 and 40 hours over “unpopulated areas” before the pilot is allowed to carry passengers.
  • Experimental aircraft must be inspected every year or 100 hours of flight time.
  • Pilots must also be licensed by the FAA.
  • In response to the NTSB’s finding a pattern of system failures and in-flight loss of control, the pilots took extra care to study techniques to address these problems.
  • Some of these and other better practices came from the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, an industry/government task force.

The FAA issued its review of the efforts in this sphere of aviation:

  • Reducing Risk. The FAA and industry are working together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies. We 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
  • Aircraft Design. The FAA is working with industry and other civil aviation authorities to develop a performance-based approach to airworthiness standards for Part 23 airplanes. These airplanes range from small piston-powered airplanes to complex high-performance executive jets.
  • New Technology. The FAA is working with manufacturers to define equipage requirements and support NextGen by streamlining the certification and installation of NextGen technologies.
  • Weather. Most weather-related accidents are fatal and a failure to recognize deteriorating weather continues to be a frequent case or contributing factor of accidents. The NTSB has highlighted weather on its Most Wanted List. While the GAJSC has produced several safety enhancements related to weather as part of their work on loss of control in flight, the FAA and industry partners launched an eight-month national safety campaign in May titled, “Got Weather?” to help general aviation (GA) pilots prepare for potential weather challenges they may encounter during the 2014 flying season.
  • Airman Testing Standards and Training. To keep pace with advances in technology and educational training methods, the FAA chartered the Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in September 2011 to engage stakeholders to recommend ways to improve the quality of general aviation airman knowledge, computer testing supplements, guides, practical test standards, and training handbooks. The ARC also considered how to develop test questions that incorporate expert input and review while balancing the need to safeguard test integrity.
  • Amateur-Built Aircraft. Amateur-built and other experimental aircraft were involved in 26 percent of U.S. fatal general aviation accidents over the past five years and account for an estimated five percent of total general aviation fleet hours. With the help of outreach and updated safety materials developed by the FAA and GAJSC industry participants, this segment of the GA industry showed a significant decline in fatal accidents in FY 2013. Loss of control remains the leading cause of fatal accidents involving amateur-built aircraft. The FAA recently updated the Airmen Transition to Experimental or Unfamiliar Airplanes Advisory Circular (AC 90-109) based on recommendations from the Amateur-Built Flight Standardization Board. The AC provides guidance and training experience recommendations to owners, pilots and flight instructors who fly experimental airplanes.
  • Certificated Flight InstructorsThe FAA has been working with the flight instructor community to improve GA safety through improved flight instructor training, most notably recurrent training.
  • Aviation Universities and Experts. Working through the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and the University Aviation Association (UAA), the FAA is partnering with the aviation academic community to leverage their expertise and develop best practices for improving flight training.


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