|PHOTO BY STEFAN SEVILLE
Safety was on the agenda Thursday at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2011 when National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Debbie Hersman visited the event for her first time. A self-described “Air Force brat” who soloed a Piper Cub before earning her driver’s license, Hersman was as enthusiastic as any AirVenture first-timer Thursday when she sat down with AirVenture Today.
“It’s a very special community here,” Hersman told AirVenture Today. “It’s just really amazing to be here in this environment and be a part of something where there’s such a positive feeling about aviation,” she added, noting her agency’s presence usually results from an accident.
“Look at how many airplanes are here, and it’s safe.”
But it can be safer, according to Hersman, and that’s one of the reasons the NTSB and EAA are collaborating on a long-term study of experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft safety. The EAA is hosting a survey on the association’s website, and the NTSB expects to complete its ongoing study in the fall of 2012.
“Our mandate is to investigate accidents. Really, it’s about learning from those accidents to prevent accidents in the future,” Hersman said.
“We want to learn how to translate some of the things we’ve learned over our 40-year history into improvement on the general aviation side” of the industry.
“One of the reasons we’re interested in amateur-built aircraft is we’re seeing a lot of accidents” in the first few hours after completion, Hersman said. “This segment [E-AB] represents about 4 percent of the flight hours and 10 percent of the aircraft, but over 20 percent of fatal accidents.”
Also, she pointed out, “Forty percent of the fatal accidents occur in the first 100 hours” since the aircraft’s completion. “If you compare that with aircraft that are manufactured, they only have an accident rate of about 1.3 percent in the first 100 hours,” Hersman added.
“We have to understand what makes each accident occur and really dive down pretty deep into the information,” she explained.
“This is a thriving part of the industry, and we really want to understand” why E-AB aircraft have a higher accident rate than their certificated brethren.
Alas, school, career, and family took precedence over finishing her pilot certificate, even with a solo flight under her belt. But Hersman looks forward to coming back to AirVenture, maybe next year.
“I’m looking forward to the NTSB being a big part of EAA because we are learning a lot and we’re listening, and we hope there are lessons learned within the pilot community,” Hersman concluded.
“It’s about the airplanes, it’s about the people. I think the whole spirit of why Paul [Poberezny] put this together originally lives on.”