Regulatory Brief -- NTSB issues recommendations to restrict certain pilots from aerobatic flight

Regulatory Brief

NTSB issues recommendations to restrict certain pilots from aerobatic flight

The issue:

On January 14, 1999, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) submitted two Safety Recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding airmen medical certification and G-tolerance during aerobatic flight. The recommendations urge the FAA to create new regulations restricting aerobatic flight for pilots with cardiac conditions or taking certain medications.

The importance to our members:

There are approximately 35,000 pilots who are taking blood pressure medication or hold special-issuance medical certificates. Under the NTSB recommendation, all of these pilots with cardiac conditions or taking any medication that could reduce G-tolerance would be restricted from aerobatic flight.

Significant provisions:

NTSB safety recommendations A-99-1 and A-99-2 cited three fatal aerobatic accidents since 1980 in which pilots supposedly showed evidence of heart conditions. The following is a synopsis of the data available to AOPA for the three accidents cited in the recommendations:
  • A Pitts Special S2S engaged in aerobatics flew into the ground. The NTSB accident report issued at the time said the pilot had no preexisting heart condition, wasn�t taking any medications, and held a regular second class medical certificate. The report said that the medical, pathological and toxicological findings at autopsy were "of no significance to the accident."
  • A Stearman PT-17 hit the ground during an airshow. NTSB�s summary of the autopsy report said the pilot had coronary artery disease and evidence of previous heart attacks. However, evidence suggests that the pilot did not know he had a heart condition, and had been issued a regular second class medical certificate.
  • A T-6 was in a low-altitude, steep-banked turn when the engine quit. The NTSB accident report noted the presence of prescription medication in the pilot�s body that would have been disqualifying for a medical certificate.

AOPA position:

AOPA maintains that the evidence cited by the NTSB does not support the Board�s recommendations. Of the three accidents cited by the NTSB over twenty years, the first has no relationship to the recommendations since the pilot was in excellent physical condition, did not hold a special issuance medical certificate and was not taking any medication. The remaining two accidents are related to the recommendations in that there was a cardiac condition and prescription medication involved, however the NTSB recommendations would not necessarily have prevented either one since the pilots either held a regular medical certificate or failed to report the use of disqualifying medications.

Status:

On February 1, 1999, AOPA sent a letter to the NTSB Chairman urging the NTSB withdraw its safety recommendations because they are unsubstantiated by operational experience and would not prevent the very accidents they were designed to address. AOPA is also in regular contact with the FAA Office of Aviation Medicine and the Aeromedical Certification Division on this matter and is awaiting a formal response from the NTSB.

Related documents:

NTSB Recommendations A-99-1 and A-99-2, January 14, 1999 (requires Adobe Reader)

AOPA letter NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, February 1, 1999

AOPA Press Release 99-1-033, February 5, 1999