With statistics enough to give any general aviation pilot pause – 450 people killed annually in general aviation accidents, loss of control being the number one cause, resulting in one fatal accident every four days – the FAA and the GA community have announced a “Fly Safe” campaign to focus attention on this leading cause of accidents among private pilots. The campaign was kicked off at the annual Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Fly-In held at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland this past weekend.
According to the FAA, a loss of control accident often happens because the aircraft “enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin.” Recovering from an unexpected stall or spin can be very difficult especially for a pilot without a lot of flight time or without a lot of recent experience handling stalls or spins. Contributing factors can include ” poor judgment/aeronautical decision making, failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action, intentional regulatory non-compliance, low pilot time in aircraft make and model, lack of piloting ability, failure to maintain airspeed, failure to follow procedure, pilot inexperience and proficiency, or the use of over-the-counter drugs that impact pilot performance.”
When I was at the NTSB, I know I investigated or reviewed loss of control accidents caused by each one of these factors. Often a combination of these factors. I applaud the FAA and the general aviation community for making this concerted effort to focus on the most prevalent cause of aviation accidents and also a preventable one. The FAA, in consultation with GA experts, has studied the data behind these loss of control accidents and has prepared solutions that every GA pilot should review before flight. Each month, the FAA will post a different solution on its FAA.gov website. The first topic picked is angle of attack indicators.
The angle of attack is the angle between the aircraft’s wing and the air rushing over it. If the angle of attack is not properly monitored, it can become too great and cause the wing to stall. When a wing stalls, it loses lift. If a pilot does not recognize an impending install and take steps to correct it, he or she can lose control of the aircraft, resulting in a crash. According to the FAA’s statement, “ more than 25% of GA accidents occur in the maneuvering phase of flight. Half of those accidents involve stall/spin scenarios.” Of course, the closer to the ground a stall occurs the harder it is for a pilot to recover.
The FAA is encouraging owners and operators of general aviation aircraft to install angle of attack indicators to give pilots of small aircraft more reliable information on airflow over the wing. This information, combined with any other stall warning systems in the aircraft, can help focus a pilot’s attention on the possibility of an impending stall. This is done through audio or other means. While angle of attack indicators have been expensive and time-consuming to install in the past, the FAA last year simplified the design approval requirements. So any aircraft owners or operators that previously looked into installing this equipment but decided not to, would be well-advised to review that decision in light of the FAA’s change in requirements.