November 11, 2009

Report shows glass-cockpit aircraft offer safety benefits

Technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) have fewer accidents when compared to the overall general aviation fleet, according to an updated study by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. However, no amount of technology can replace a pilot's vigilance and good judgment.

"Light GA pilots are now undergoing the transition that the airlines and corporate pilots underwent in prior decades," states the report, Technologically Advanced Aircraft: Safety and Training. "Training requirements center on differences in new-design TAA handling characteristics and the addition of capable but complex avionics packages."

There are three categories of TAA aircraft: newly designed aircraft; newly manufactured classic design aircraft equipped with new avionics; and retrofitted existing aircraft of varying ages. For the purpose of this study, the foundation focused its research solely on glass-cockpit aircraft.

The analysis of accidents that occurred between 2003 and 2006 shows that TAA have proportionately fewer accidents than the overall GA fleet. While TAA account for 2.8 percent of the GA fleet, they were involved in only 1.5 percent of the accidents.

"As more TAA begin entering the flight training market, we'll look for changes in the accident statistics," said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. "There's a potential for an increase in takeoff and landing accidents when these aircraft are used more for instructional missions."

Fuel monitoring and warning systems in TAA have advanced to the point where there was not a single fuel-related accident reported in the foundation's study. In other GA aircraft, fuel management accidents occur at a rate of almost three per week.

The TAA report did note a significant number of weather accidents. Of all fatal TAA accidents during the study period, 44.4 percent were weather related. As with legacy aircraft, which use traditional avionics and instruments, VFR into instrument conditions is a leading cause of weather accidents. The foundation will continue to provide educational material to the pilot community to help bring these numbers down.

Training in TAA is different than with legacy aircraft, and the foundation dedicates a portion of its report to outlining specific training goals with TAA. As with all types of aircraft, initial training begins on the ground. However, with TAA the ground portion is much more extensive than with legacy aircraft.

The foundation encourages all pilots to begin training for TAA with CD/DVD, simulator, flight-training device, or Web-based training, or a combination of those options. A working knowledge of the avionics systems and how to program them should take place on the ground before pilots begin training in the aircraft. Rushing into the aircraft before grasping the avionics operation is an expensive way to learn and may increase the chance of a midair collision where both pilot and instructor are spending too much time focusing inside the cockpit learning the equipment and not enough time looking outside.

August 1, 2007