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Major GA Safety Effort Planned by FAA
March 29, 2011
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  • By Kerry Lynch
    March 29, 2011

    FAA is launching a major new safety initiative designed to improve education and outreach with the general aviation community and lower the number of GA accidents. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, FAA Flight Standards Director John Allen and Mel Cintron, manager of FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division, outlined the initiative to reporters on March 21, saying the agency has established a goal of reducing the general aviation fatal accident rate per 100,000 flight hours by 10% over the next 10 years. The agency also has set a five-year goal of improving safety through a multifaceted effort that includes working with industry groups to host 98 “safety stand- down” sessions beginning April 2 during the Sun ‘N Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Fla.

    The GA accident rate in 2010 was 1.14 accidents per 100,000 flight hours, down 8% from fiscal 2009. But over the past several years the accident rate has been fairly static, FAA says, adding, “Significant work is needed to further improve the general aviation safety record.” The 10% rate reduction “is something we’re shooting for, not something we’re limiting ourselves to,” Cintron says.

    The agency plans to use a data-driven approach to improve the overall accident rate, similar to the one employed by the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). Allen notes the success of the commercial team and says he believe that applying that methodology to GA could have similar success. The agency recently convened the GA Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) to analyze safety data and develop specific interventions. The GAJSC comprises a range of industry and government participants.

    FAA expects to zero-in on the leading causes of accidents to improve the overall rate. The CAST took the top 10 areas to identify systemic causes and assembled a plan to address those issues, Allen says. “We’re trying to get low-hanging fruits to see what causal factors are,” adds Cintron.

    No ‘Big Hammer’

    The top current accident causes, FAA says, include loss of control during initial climb, while maneuvering, during en route cruise and during low-altitude flight; aerodynamic stalls during initial climb and during maneuvering at low altitude; controlled flight into terrain; visual flight rules encounter with instrument meteorological conditions, and collision with terrain while maneuvering during low-altitude flight.

    Cintron says the focus will be on education and remediation rather than punishment. “This is not a regulatory approach,” he says. “We have to work collaboratively across the community.” If a pilot makes a mistake and FAA responds with a “big hammer,” the pilot may or may not change his behavior, he says. But with remedial action, FAA can get to the root cause of the issue, not just with the pilot in question, but with the larger general aviation community, Cintron says.

    Since the accident rate will not change overnight, FAA is looking at a multipronged, five-year effort to improve safety. As part of the shorter-term goal, the FAA Safety Team, or “FAASTeam,” will host the safety standdowns, along with industry leaders and volunteers, for general aviation pilots and mechanics. Allen calls partnership with groups with a large infrastructure (such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Experimental Aircraft Association) key to the educational outreach. “I know we can’t do it alone.” FAA estimates the effort would involve more than 12 agency staff, in addition to 3,000 volunteers around the nation.

    The sessions will be presented in a multimedia format. But FAA wants the atmosphere to be one of a hangar gathering, where attendees “are comfortable that they are not going to be lectured,” Babbitt says. “We want them to participate.”

    The standdowns will focus on four areas that FAA officials believe will provide the greatest potential for improving safety. These include maintaining a positive flight attitude – “Professionalism should characterize every action you take as a pilot,” the agency says. “Approach every flight as if your life depends on it, because it does.” Other areas involve conducting a thorough preflight check, remaining alert during cruise and remaining aware of airspeed. FAA says a proper preflight is crucial and is more than just a checklist, but a good test of an airman’s knowledge of the aircraft and systems. The agency also warns that pilots must avoid complacency during en route cruise and pay attention to airspeed. “Loss of control in maneuvering flight often results from inattention to airspeed,” the agency adds.

    Focus On Experimental Aircraft

    Another major emphasis over the next five years will be reversing the accident trends involving experimental aircraft. According to FAA, amateur-built and experimental aircraft were involved in 22% of fatal accidents, but account for just more than 5% of the total general aviation fleet hours. “This represents a nearly five-to-one ratio of fatal accidents per flight hour compared to the mainstream general aviation community,” FAA says.

    Babbitt says problems surface particularly when pilots accrue a few hours on one aircraft and then switch to a higher-performance aircraft or “any variance from what they are used to. We want them to take a fresh look.”

    Cintron also points to a problem with the “second owner.” The initial owner of an amateur aircraft may know specific handling capabilities, but the second owner may not have that knowledge.

    The agency is working on an advisory circular (AC) based on recommendations from the Amateur-Built Flight Standardization Board. The AC, to be released in upcoming weeks, will provide guidance and training experience recommendations for owners, pilots and flight instructors.

    FAA’s five-year goals further call for working with certified flight instructors and partnering with aviation universities and experts. Work already has been under way with the flight instructor community, including an AC that FAA drafted after meeting with industry sponsors of Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics. That AC currently is out for public review. The CFI segment, Allen says, “is incredibly important for the future of advancing safety.” Improving safety at the instructional level will have a cascading effect, he says.

    Meanwhile, FAA is co-chairing an FAA/Academia Symposium in conjunction with the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI). Results of that meeting will be presented at the University Aviation Association’s Fall Education Conference in October and at the February 2012 AABI Winter Meeting. The meetings will identify non-regulatory measures that will improve flight training.

    Date: 2011-03-29