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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Homebuilder's Council Meets with NTSB on E-AB Safety

By JOSEPH E. (JEB) BURNSIDE

In August’s EAA Sport Aviation, EAA announced the NTSB’s study and support of a project designed to “look at a range of issues, including builder assistance programs, transition training for pilot-builders, flight test and certification requirements.”

The safety record of experimental amateur-built, or homebuilt, aircraft is getting attention in Washington at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as well as at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011.

Earlier in July the NTSB announced the launch of a study examining this dynamic, growing general-aviation segment and EAA is working with the board to help it collect data.
To update each organization on the project’s status, NTSB staff met Monday with EAA’s Homebuilt Aircraft Council (HAC).

In August’s EAA Sport Aviation, EAA announced the NTSB’s study and support of a project designed to “look at a range of issues, including builder assistance programs, transition training for pilot-builders, flight test and certification requirements.”

Also among the topics to be examined are maintenance of amateur-built aircraft along with the “performance and failures of systems, structures and powerplants.”

Already, some 4,500 builders and pilots have responded to the study, which is available on the EAA web site at www.eaa.org/AB-Survey.

At Monday’s meeting, NTSB staffer Vern Ellingstad, from the Office of Research and Engineering, and Kristi Dunks, of the safety board’s Office of Aviation Safety, briefed the HAC and EAA’s government relations staff on the study’s status.

In turn, the HAC and EAA staff pointed out several obvious factors that may be contributing to amateur-built accidents.

From completion to transition
Perhaps chief among the factors EAA believes contributes to amateur-built aircraft accidents are the twin issues of transition training and education. Especially when considering a new aircraft’s maiden flight, there is no opportunity for the proud new owner to have any experience flying the just-completed aircraft unless he or she has obtained transition training in a comparable type.

Similarly, those familiar with flying say a Skyhawk won’t be accustomed to the homebuilt aircraft's different handling characteristics without prior exposure and experience.
The education front is just as important, especially when one considers that most accidents—involving all types of aircraft—occur as a result of some level of pilot error or judgment lapse.

Certainly, handling characteristics play a role, but educating pilots on a type’s characteristics and challenges—especially in the first few hours after the aircraft’s completion—as well as the need to exercise care during an aircraft’s first few flight hours can be key.

Another issue is the FAA’s own regulations, which often require solo flights until the individual aircraft has flown off its preliminary hours.

Allowing a flight instructor or mentor pilot familiar with the type to accompany the builder-pilot could go a long way toward reducing homebuilt aircraft accidents, according to EAA.

A question of balance
When all is said and done, however, one key question likely will remain unanswered: What is an acceptable level of risk when operating experimental amateur-built aircraft?

As EAA pointed out to the NTSB staffers at Monday’s meeting, the overall experimental aircraft accident rate is trending downward even as homebuilt aircraft are more popular than ever.

At the same time, experimental amateur-built types generally fly shorter flights, with a greater number of landings and takeoffs per flight hour than production aircraft, for example.

These factors not only tend to produce an apples-and-oranges comparison issue, they also increase the need for appropriate training and education.

The NTSB plans to complete its study in the late spring of 2012, with results planned for publication in the fall of that year.

In the meantime, EAA staff will be working closely with the homebuilt community and the NTSB to ensure the study achieves appropriate goals.

Pilots and builders who have not yet responded to the association’s survey should do so at their earliest opportunity.

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