The recent Icon A5 tragedy may have another unfortunate consequence, beyond the tragic loss of a remarkable man, Roy Halladay. The accident will stress Icon Aircraft and put an exceptionally well-designed aircraft at risk of an unfair reputation.
Icon set out with a mission to build the safest light sport aircraft in the world, and from my recent flight experience, it appears they achieved that and more, perhaps designing one of the safest aircraft in any category. Icon is working to broaden the aviation market and, unfortunately for the industry, those efforts may be stunted due to recent accidents.
From limited information and public videos, probable cause in the Halladay accident will likely stem from his not fully appreciating the dynamics of low altitude (LOWAT) flying. LOWAT flying demands constant awareness of “time to impact,” influenced by speed, altitude, and aircraft attitude. Minor distractions are exaggerated into significant risks because of reduced time for recognition and recovery before ground impact. Concepts like “time to impact” and responses like “climb to cope” are essential parts of the subconscious when flying LOWAT. Most GA aircraft, including the Icon, have an added challenge of relatively limited engine power, which reduces the ability to escape exaggerated pitch attitudes and large sink rates. To their credit, Icon requires transition training before aircraft delivery, which includes some LOWAT training. Icon recently published a well-thought-out piece on LOWAT flying, providing some guidelines and considerations.
Icon may need to expand LOWAT education and perhaps infuse their training programs with methods to instill a culture and a mindset among Icon pilots that respects the demands of LOWAT flying, while still promoting the fun and adventure. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. Hawkins will have to assess whether he has the right mix of instructor cadre to conduct expanded training optimized for GA pilots, who have varied training backgrounds and are constantly managing time and funding constraints.
About a decade ago, Cirrus Aircraft had a troubling accident rate, and the reputation of the aircraft suffered despite significant safety enhancements. Cirrus responded, redesigning training and working with the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) to change the Cirrus culture and help pilots adapt and take advantage of the aircraft’s safety features. Icon will need a similar response to learn from this year’s tragedies and establish a culture that promotes the thrill of flying in the LOWAT environment, while instilling a respect for “time to impact” among an adventurous breed of GA pilots.