Safety committee’s report focuses on loss-of-control accidents

March 27, 2013

A work group of the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, an FAA/industry panel dedicated to reducing fatal general aviation accidents, has completed its report on loss-of-control accidents in the approach and landing phase of flight, including recommendations for safety improvements.

AOPA’s Air Safety Institute co-chairs the joint steering committee, and AOPA participated in the working group. A second work group, focused on en route and departure loss-of-control accidents, is chaired by AOPA and the FAA.

The work group focused on loss-of-control accidents because an FAA overview of fatal general aviation accidents from 2001 to 2010 concluded that 40.2 percent of fatal accidents during that period had loss of control as a cause.

The group, which held its first meeting in September 2011, relied on NTSB data to analyze accidents, formulate “interventions,” and begin to create outreach on recommended safety enhancements. The data-driven method provided the “analytical credibility” that would serve as the driver for implementing the report’s recommendations. The process, adapted from the highly successful Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), followed three steps: Understand what caused the accidents; identify preventative strategies that will hopefully avoid future accidents; and get the recommendations out to the general aviation community.

AOA systems needed

The report points out that GA makes very little use of angle-of-attack (AOA) systems for stall avoidance, and described them as a key tool in avoiding loss of control.

“The GA community should embrace to the fullest extent the stall margin awareness benefits of these systems. To help the GA community understand the safety benefits of AOA systems, a public education campaign should be developed by industry and the FAA,” it said.

In a related recommendation, the report urged manufacturers to develop low-cost installations and retrofits of AOA systems for the existing GA fleet but also pointed out the regulatory barriers that often inhibit these safety enhancing systems from being installed on aircraft.

Several elements of aeronautical decision making were proposed as the focus of educational efforts. The FAA and industry were also urged to improve training related to pilots’ over-reliance on automation. Transition training and training after a period of pilot inactivity were seen as risk areas in loss of control.

“The FAA should amend current policy that restricts type specific training in rented, kit, or experimental amateur built aircraft to allow proper transition training and reduce accidents,” the report said.

“The FAA and the aviation industry agreed that the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee would be the aviation safety initiative,” said David Oord, AOPA manager of regulatory affairs who co-chaired both work groups. “AOPA encourages members to study the report, apply its safety recommendations to their own flying, and share their awareness of the information with other pilots.”

The working group’s effort to address the loss-of-control problem was chosen as the pilot project for the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, which was re-established in 2011.

Pilot decision making was, and is, key to safety

Most fatal aircraft accidents can be attributed to pilot-related causes, with far fewer caused by mechanical problems and other problems, as this training film vividly dramatizes. If that sounds like a familiar batch of statistics, here’s the wrinkle: This training film is from around the year 1950 and cites statistics showing that about 85 percent of fatal accidents can be traced to actions of the pilot, with only five percent of the mishaps aircraft related. The remaining 10 percent of the accidents had undetermined causes.

Now, in 2013, AOPA, through the safety programs of the Air Safety Institute, and through the association’s leadership in the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, continues working with other industry groups and government agencies to improve GA’s safety record, emphasizing how proper management of the decision-making process can lead a pilot into, or away from, trouble.

Although the technology and the visuals of this training film may appear quite dated, the message is as valid today as it was when Pilot No. 1 and Pilot No. 2 in this film faced the critical flight scenarios shown. Spending a few minutes watching the film, and a lot more time considering its life-saving message, is as worthwhile today as it was when it was new.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.