|NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman and EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower engage in a lively discussion on GA safety. (photo by Jeb Burnside)
By Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside
In her second visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in as many years, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman Wednesday noted a sobering statistic: Although GA flies roughly half of all flight hours in the U.S., it's responsible for some 97 percent of aviation fatalities.
Hersman's comments came during the "Meet the NTSB Chairman" session, led by EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower, and included some equally thought-provoking statistics. Her presentation was designed to acquaint EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012 attendees with the NTSB and its role in not only uncovering the underlying causes of aviation accidents, but in trying to prevent them, too.
Hersman's appearance yesterday also was designed to highlight a larger and arguably more important presentation scheduled for today at 10 a.m. in Forum Pavilion 07, where she'll discuss the findings of a lengthy, detailed study into the safety of experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft. That study, conducted last year by the NTSB with EAA's assistance, gathered information from more than 5,000 EAA members. It also incorporated 10 years of accident data comparing E-AB aircraft with similar certified aircraft in relevant GA flight operations.
The NTSB also conducted in-depth investigations of all E-AB aircraft accidents during 2011 and engaged in detailed; fact-finding discussions with EAA staff; FAA officials; E-AB aircraft builders, owners and type clubs; plus kit manufacturers.
Sixteen safety recommendations came out of the study, 12 directed at the FAA and four at EAA.
Generally, the NTSB recommendations focused on expanding initial airworthiness documentation requirements, verifying Phase I flight testing accomplishment, improving and facilitating transition training, encouraging data collection and analysis during flight testing, ensuring buyers of used E-AB aircraft receive necessary performance documentation, and improving aircraft identification in registry records.
The four recommendations specifically directed at the EAA include encouraging owners, builders, and pilots of experimental amateur-built aircraft to complete flight-test training-available in the association's Test Flying and Developing Pilot Operating Handbook-before beginning formal flight testing; develop data-recording standards for devices used in flight tests or continued operations; make available voluntarily provided information on those holding Letters of Deviation Authority and providing flight instruction in E-ABs; and implement plans to develop pilot transition training resources and incentivize pilots to complete the resulting training.
Emphasizing some of the frustrations GA safety advocates share, Hersman yesterday pointed out some basic facts regarding E-AB and GA accidents generally.
First, she noted, preventing fuel starvation and exhaustion accidents should be a simple thing: Carry enough fuel and ensure it's available to the engine(s).
Second, don't fly into situations - like continuing VFR flight into IMC - where loss of control is extremely likely.
Finally, pilots should know the limitations of the airplane and their own capabilities.
"Some of these things are easy," she noted, "but some of them are hard, and I think they all take constant vigilance every day.
"Pilots have a lot of responsibility," she said, to ensure both the easy and the hard things are accomplished to avoid accidents.
Chairman Hersman, who soloed a Piper Cub before obtaining her driver's license and who flew here last year in an NTSB employee's Beech Bonanza, went on to affirm her agency's belief in the value of GA and the E-AB community.
To learn more about the NTSB and its study into E-AB accident causes - and its recommendations to prevent them - be sure to attend Thursday's presentation.