By: Jessica Opoien
Experimental Aircraft Association President and CEO Rod Hightower and Sean Elliott, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, will testify before the National Transportation Safety Board during a hearing on air show and air race safety today in Washington D.C.
The impetus for the hearing is an accident at last year’s Reno Air Races, in which 11 people died and about 70 were badly injured when a World War II-era plane piloted by EAA board member Jimmy Leeward crashed and sent parts into the crowd. However, the NTSB broadened the scope of the hearing since the Reno event is so unique in the aviation community.
“EAA has certainly been part of the discussion when NTSB has been talking about general aviation safety and engaging with the aviation community. That’s what led to the invitation,” said EAA Communications Director Dick Knapinski.
Hightower and Elliott will appear with representatives from the Reno Air Racing Association and Air Boss Inc. in a panel invited by the NTSB to share insights regarding industry best practices and safety measures.
The hearing will be streamed live on the NTSB website at 9:40 a.m.
“Safety, of course, is the top priority in all of them,” Knapinski said of the air shows and air races that will be represented at the hearing.
Still, accidents occur. According to the NTSB, there have been 152 air show and air race accidents in the U.S. since 1986. There were fatalities in 75 of those accidents, but the Reno incident was the only one with spectator deaths.
Knapinski said there is a difference between air shows and air races, adding that there has not been a spectator fatality at a North American air show in 60 years.
“The FAA has very stringent regulations on air shows, and the industry itself has very stringent best practices,” Knapinski said.
Those provisions include setting up crowd lines that keep spectators 500 to 1,000 feet away from overhead activity and not allowing any aircraft energy to be directed toward the audience.
Hightower and Elliott will speak specifically about EAA’s AirVenture convention and how the organization cooperates with local officials, the FAA, the NTSB and military units to ensure that the show is as safe as possible. Knapinski said it is a coordinated effort at every level, from the Oshkosh Fire Department to national administrative powers.
“We’re very proud to be able to represent the aviation community, and certainly represent all of our members and people interested in shows such as AirVenture,” Knapinski said.
NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman visited AirVenture last summer to discuss safety and get a firsthand look at the event. Knapinski said “continuous enhancements” go into the safety measures in place at AirVenture every year.
Others slated to testify at the NTSB hearing include officials from the FAA, the International Council of Air Shows and the Commemorative Air Force.
“It’s a very rare opportunity,” Knapinski said. “I can’t recall the last time the EAA has testified in front of the entire board.”
Source: The Northwestern