NTSB Safety Alerts: General aviation is on the radar and not in a good way!

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NTSB General Aviation Safety Alerts
NTSB Safety Alerts: General aviation is on the radar and not in a good way!
You might have noticed that the NTSB sent out five Safety Alerts last week in response to general aviation safety.
Here are NTSB Chairman Debra Hersman’s opening remarks to the Board regarding the issue at hand, “While there is much safety work being done across the GA community through efforts like the GA Joint Steering Committee with its FAA and AOPA co-chairs, and by other organizations, such as the Flight Safety Foundation, NBAA, GAMA, and EAA, today we meet to discuss what we, the NTSB, can do to help bring the accident rate down.”
I hope I’m not the only one mildly alarmed by this.
According to the NTSB this document explains why we are on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List.
NTSB Most Wanted List
NTSB has only issued 23 Safety Alerts according to NTSB.gov and the oldest one dates back to 2006, which must be when they started the program to distribute such documents.
It is interesting that under the umbrella of the NTSB, which includes any mode of transportation (cars/trucks, trains, boats, & airplanes), over half of those alerts (13 out of 23) are dedicated to aviation; highway safety and it’s associated daily horrors only garnered 7!
This goes to the visibility of aviation in the public eye. The NTSB is a government organization that is influenced by politics.  Everyone knows that aviation is a lightning rod in the press and the public-at-large. So we (GA) find ourselves in the unenviable position of being targeted as a result of our accident records – which have been mostly flat the last decade based on my observations, while US airlines have enjoyed improvement and 4 straight years of 0 fatalities. GA stats below.
Click on the image to go to the source page at NTSB.gov
accident statistics aviation

From NTSB.gov – let’s not cloud the issue with data and facts! Red outlines are my emphasis.

While I applaud the Bureau for publishing helpful information on the subject, I fear it’s really just a shot across the bow.
Many others would agree. Several big names in GA inside and outside of the alphabet organizations such as AOPAEAA, GAMA, & LAMA have been warning us about this ever since the first rumblings started to come out of Washington about those pesky little airplanes that keep showing up on the news.
Some of these leaders in our industry have been blunt in saying that either we fix this or they will do it for us – not a solution anyone wants to see.
Now I’m not a safety Nazi, far from it, but if we want to protect the freedoms that we so enjoy, I suggest, we save the buzz jobs for after this all blows over. Thinking about pushing the fuel or the weather? – save those too! I don’t want more regulation -thank you very much!
Let’s look at the alerts and try to determine where this might lead – in my opinion only.
The first problem with these papers is that almost anyone that is taking the time to read this stuff is not really the target audience. The only caveat to that would be instructors who could reinforce these concepts in training. But once a pilot is out of training, you can only get to him/her via a Biennial Flight Review (BFR) or an add on rating/certificate.
Otherwise you can literally fly you’ll whole life without a single day of meaningful training – don’t think this is missed on the folks looking at this stuff. It would be a quick pen-stroke change to implement some kind of mandatory recurrent training, which would essentially expand the BFR requirement. I hope they aren’t reading this, I don’t want to give them any ideas.
Prevent Aerodynamic Stalls at Low Altitude (Safety Alert SA-019 March 2013)flying safely stall prevention

In reading this one it really hits home. I lost a friend and very experienced aviator to a base-to-final stall/incipient spin during a routine BFR (he was the IP) in a Cirrus.

The advice proffered is high-level, but good – which is what you would expect in this kind of document. Like the other SAs, it does provide other worthwhile sources. I would add that anything written by Penner, Kershner, or Stowell are worth seeking out regarding this subject.  Aerodynamics is one of the more interesting aspects of flying and I have tried to be a student of it since I began flying almost 30 years ago. Learning as much as possible can keep you out of the weeds if you temper it with common sense.

Potential Outcomes (my speculation only): 
  • A change in the Practical Test Standards (PTS) on stall spin awareness. I don’t think this measure would hurt a thing. Frankly I’d like mandatory spins to be back in the curriculum, but that won’t happen.
  • Biennial Flight Review emphasis on stall prevention and recovery and possibly an oral or written quiz on the subject as well. Not much else they can do to get to the folks that are doing this. Maybe they could go draconian and make everyone install an AOA with audio alerts – not happening.
Reduced Visual References Require Vigilance (Safety Alert SA-020 March 2013)NTSB SA Reduced Visibility
This is the classic VFR into IMC. There are good examples in this article that really highlight how quickly things can turn ugly.
This is the nemesis of the pilot who pushes the weather – the first example is an ATP rated aviator on a night VFR flight in the mountains. All of these really tie to judgement, because the thought processes that get you to this point are usually heavy on rationalization.
Punchline – don’t push the weather, especially at night. There are some good extra sources of information in the document as well.
Potential outcomes (my speculation only):
  • More Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) training in all curriculum
  • More hood time for PPL
  • BFR emphasis
  • Tighten night currency restrictions over the current 3 landing per 90 days
Is Your Aircraft Talking to You? Listen! (Safety Alert SA-021 March 2013)NTSB SA Is your aircraft talking to you
This paper is the most intriguing. I actually like that rather than the old tried and true admonishment that we usually hear about, this one is pretty actionable and very pointed.
One of the better things about airplanes is that they usually tell you before they up and quit. In the cases cited, there was ample opportunity to not push their luck – something they obviously didn’t seize upon and paid the ultimate price.
I  was glad that they admitted to something that has plagued me – the costs and how they have a cause-and-effect relationship on safety. A direct quote from the paper, “Resist the temptation to let external pressures, such as the desire to save time or money, influence you to fly an aircraft that shows signs of a potential problem.” I feel the costs also affects proficiency (less money equals less flying), which again drives down safety. It’s a direct correlation in my mind.
Potential outcomes (my speculation only):
  • No owner maintenance on experiments (listen up guys – 30,000+ airplanes in the system are experimental)
  • Increased inspection intervals
  • Increased surveillance on preflight inspections
  • Increased scrutiny on maintenance practices (read more expensive annuals)
All of these costs more money – a lot more!
Mechanics: Manage Risk to Ensure Safety (Safety Alert SA-022 March 2013)NTSB SA Mechanics
In this one they used an example from SA-021, but this alert is directed at the mechanic that did the faulty repair that led to the fatality. Although this alert is not exactly actionable for us pilots, if you are someone who does your own maintenance (legally), listen up. Otherwise, choose you mechanics wisely.
Potential outcomes (same as SA-021):
  • No owner maintenance on experiments (listen up guys – 30,000 airplanes in the system are experimental)
  • Increased inspection intervals
  • Increased surveillance on preflight inspections
  • Increased scrutiny on maintenance practices (read more expensive annuals)
Like I said, all of these costs a lot more money!
Pilots: Manage Risk to Ensure Safety (Safety Alert SA-023 March 2013)NTSB SA ADM
This is the old standard. If pilots made better decisions this stuff wouldn’t happen. This one really encompasses all of these alerts and many of the pilot-induced accidents and incidents on record. If I could bottle up good Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) and sell it, I would be the richest man in aviation. I can’t claim to exercise good ADM, it’s a constantly evolving process and because it is so tied to internal and external factors on any given day, a really good pilot in this area could fall down. Pro pilots get this stuff beat into us regularly and it’s good, but even with all that, bad decisions get made. One thing the alert offers is links to some excellent resources on the subject.
Potential outcomes (my speculation only):
  • Increased ADM emphasis in training
  • Increased ADM emphasis on BFRs
  • Insurance strangulation by virtue of requiring higher flight times or more money (or both) to acquire coverage, in spite of the fact that many of these accidents are by very high time pilots

An excerpt from Hersman’s closing remarks, “Improving GA safety is a big challenge. The nation’s population of pilots and mechanics is immense: about 617,000 active pilots and some 335,000 mechanics. And, as we heard at last summer’s GA safety forum, only a small portion of these are taking online courses and attending safety seminars or doing other things to improve their flying skills and risk-management abilities.”

She continues on to say, “So much of general aviation is a world apart from air carriers, which have training departments, safety officers, and safety management systems. GA is essentially an airline or maintenance operation of one, which puts the responsibility for sound decision-making on one person’s shoulders.” – end quote.

Draw your own conclusions.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

by Brent Owens

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