November 11, 2009
A new study of weather-related aviation accidents adopted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week re-affirms that pilots with higher levels of training and experience are less likely to be involved in fatal accidents in which weather is a factor. However, several of the study's nine recommendations - such as giving flight instructors access to pilots' records - could potentially lead to costly and complex regulation.
"The NTSB study itself helps highlight the need for ongoing pilot training, but some of its conclusions raise serious concerns," said Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). "If the FAA were to implement any of the recommendations, pilots could be faced with burdensome new requirements that might not significantly improve safety." So while AOPA's Air Safety Foundation staff reviews NTSB's findings for their potential to enhance safety, the Association's Government and Technical Affairs department is also involved to assure than any recommendation with regulatory implications meets a reasonable test in terms of cost and complexity. "As always, we will work with the FAA to make sure that whatever is done truly benefits pilots and their safety, said Boyer."
"The study's findings are not surprising to those of us involved in aviation safety education, or to the pilot community at large," said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. "But the NTSB study does an excellent job of using the data, and as a result, the findings provide more statistical support for the importance of continuing training."
The NTSB study examined 72 fatal weather-related accidents that occurred over a seven-month period and compared them to 135 non-accident flights operating under the same weather conditions within the same general area at the same time. It found that pilots who earned their first certificates before the age of 25 and those who obtained advanced certificates or instrument ratings are at a reduced risk compared to other pilots.
"That makes perfect sense," said Landsberg. "We've known from our own studies that the accident rate generally goes down as training and experience levels go up. That's why the aviation industry in general, and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation in particular, put so much effort into pilot education."
The Air Safety Foundation conducts more than 100 safety seminars across the country each year, reaching tens of thousands of pilots in person. A recent seminar, Weather Wise: Practical Tips and Tactical Tricks, drew on the experiences of pilots themselves to share practical advice on flying in weather. Weather Wise is also available as a Seminar In A Box® kit that allows pilot groups anywhere in the country to benefit.
The AOPA Online Safety Center includes two online courses, Single-Pilot IFR and IFR Adventure (an instrument refresher course), specifically devoted to flying in poor weather conditions, as well as a mini-course on avoiding thunderstorms. There's also the SkySpotter® online course on filing pilot reports.
"The weather information pilots get in their preflight briefings is all based on forecasting models," said Landsberg. "It's pilot reports that let forecasters and other pilots know what actual conditions are and make changes to forecasts and flight plans accordingly. The pirep system does not work very well for a variety of reasons and it needs to be improved."
All of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's educational materials are available to all pilots - not just AOPA members - free of charge or at nominal cost.
The AOPA Air Safety Foundation is the home of the AOPA Online Safety Center - a pilot's best source for safety training and educational materials. The Air Safety Foundation is the nation's only private, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to providing continuing pilot education and safety programs for general aviation. It is funded by donations from individual pilots and organizations, which support the cause of improved general aviation safety.
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