The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently held a much-publicized meeting in Washington that focused on general aviation safety. The message was clear: the board views the GA accident rate as unacceptably high, and they want action. Their first step was to release five Safety Alerts targeting the leading causes of accidents.
The question is, will anyone listen?
The overall tone of the meeting was one of frustration: “Because we investigate each of the 1,500 GA accidents that occur in the United States every year, we see the same types of accidents over and over again,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “What’s especially tragic is that so many of these accidents are entirely preventable.” The board is admitting what most pilots already know–we aren’t inventing new ways to kill pilots.
Indeed, the five Safety Alerts cover familiar territory:
- Is Your Aircraft Talking to You? Listen! – A surprising number of accidents involve powerplant issues where the pilot knew there was a problem and chose to fly anyway. The NTSB urges pilots to conduct a thorough preflight inspection and not to defer critical maintenance.
- Reduced Visual References Require Vigilance – VFR-into-IMC is the focus here, and it remains a leading cause of GA accidents, year after year. The alert predictably suggests getting a good weather briefing and having higher minimums at night no matter what the weather.
- Avoid Aerodynamic Stalls at Low Altitude – This focuses on low level stalls, especially in VFR weather. The alert reminds pilots that stalls can happen at any airspeed and any attitude, and notes that many of these stalls happen due to distraction or inattention.
- Pilots: Manage Risks to Ensure Safety – This safety alert is a broad endorsement of formal risk management and aeronautical decision-making processes. Whether it’s evaluating one’s medical condition, planning in-flight diversions or respecting personal minimums, the NTSB is urging that decisions not be made under pressure.
- Mechanics: Manage Risks to Ensure Safety – The blame isn’t all on pilots, as this alert focuses on mechanics. It urges mechanics to follow manufacturer instructions, pay attention to fatigue and have a second set of eyes inspect critical systems after work has been completed.
There’s nothing earth-shattering here–don’t fly in bad weather, don’t stall and don’t fly into a mountain. The NSTB is developing supporting materials for each Safety Alert, including a series of five videos. In addition, each alert offers a number of links to more information, from online courses and advisory circulars. But even with all this material, most of the suggestions for improvement (know your airplane, don’t let passengers pressure you into making a trip) are much easier said than done.
Defining the problem is one thing, but changing pilot behavior is quite another. In particular, will the pilots who need to hear these warnings most be the ones who listen? As Hersman said: “You can have the best accident prevention strategies in the world, but unless they are communicated effectively to people who need to know and who will benefit the most, they won’t save a single life.”
The complete presentation is worth reviewing, and can be viewed on the NTSB’s website.