Volunteer pilot event raises safety awareness

March 28, 2011

The AOPA Foundation’s Air Safety Institute joined with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Air Care Alliance (ACA) March 25 to host more than 200 pilots who fly volunteer missions for a “safety stand-down” at the NTSB’s Training Center in Ashburn, Va. The event is the outgrowth of ongoing conversations between the three groups in the wake of several volunteer medical airlift accidents over a short period of time in 2008.

NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman welcomed the pilots, calling the day’s event a great opportunity for the board, the Air Safety Institute, and the umbrella Air Care Alliance and its constituent volunteer pilot organizations to work together to enhance safety for pilots who donate their time and skills, and for their passengers.

“The Air Safety Institute has been working with several of the volunteer pilot groups and the Air Care Alliance on raising safety awareness ever since several tragic accidents in 2008,” said Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Foundation, co-sponsor of the stand-down. “The safety record for public benefit flying is good. But as the great turn-out at today’s event demonstrates, we’re all committed to making it better.”

Angel Flight Mid-Atlantic’s Steve Craven developed the initial concept and approached the NTSB with the idea of the stand-down; the regional organization coordinated the event and provided a method for pilots to register online.

Landsberg talked to the assembled pilots about the danger of a “mission mindset.” As with all flights, there are times when it’s best not to take off, or to land someplace other than your intended destination.

“Remember,” he said, “it’s a flight. When you’re flying, you’re playing for all the marbles, and not all the marbles are yours.”

He said volunteer pilots, like doctors, need to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.

Attendees also heard from Susan Parson, editor of FAA Safety Briefing magazine, about making good decisions about weather conditions; JJ Greenway, Air Safety Institute chief flight instructor and safety director, on flying safe instrument approaches; and Talbot Martin of Yodice and Associates, AOPA’s legal counsel, on NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS)—a way for pilots or anyone else involved in aviation to report safety concerns. The ASRS helps the NTSB and others involved in aviation to identify trends in order to address safety concerns.

Attendees also had a unique opportunity to learn about how the NTSB conducts accident investigations. Dr. Paul Schuda, director of the training center, presented a lecture on the TWA 800 investigation before allowing the pilots to view the reconstructed aircraft.

“The stand-down was the result of a lot of back-and-forth discussions, and the Air Safety Institute appreciates the commitment of Chairman Hersman, ACA President Lindy Kirkland, and of course the 200 pilots who joined us,” concluded Landsberg. “We hope to be able to offer similar opportunities to pilots across the country.”