May 20, 2013

With better training practices and cockpit instrumentation, the general aviation (GA) community saw accident rates fall to record lows over the last decade. But to the frustration of operators and regulators, rates have crept upwards in the last two years.

To stay ahead of this trend, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is meeting with a General Aviation Coalition to refocus on safety efforts.

The meeting was held at FAA headquarters on May 13, and included representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), as well as the industry groups that make up the General Aviation Coalition: NBAA, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA), Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), the United States Parachute Association (USPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Helicopter Association International (HAI) and other GA groups.

“This is a very data-driven effort,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president, safety, security, operations & regulation, who represented the Association at the meeting. “The accident rate is either hitting a plateau or trending up in some segments of general aviation, and the FAA wants to work with the industry to achieve a measurable improvement.”

Specifically, the FAA’s goal is a 10-percent reduction in the accident rate. In 2012, the rate for all general aviation was 1.1 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The agency’s goal is to reach 1.0 accidents per 100,000 flight hours by 2018.

The GA Coalition meeting, held on May 13, kicked off with a brainstorming session to identify areas that the entire GA community can focus on, and where the FAA can help raise awareness of the need for improvement.

“A few themes emerged from this meeting,” said Carr. “Those are the buckets into which we’ll add the details for an action plan. They were: safety culture, pilot currency, changes to certification and training requirements and collaboration.”

FAA officials emphasized the only way to reduce accidents is through continued collaboration between government and industry, rather than creating large new mandates or imposing an excessive number of penalties for regulation violations.

“The coalition members exchanged a lot of information with FAA officials on what works and what doesn’t,” said Carr. “There was a consensus in the meeting that regulations do not necessarily equal safety. For example, FAA officials pointed to the excellent safety record of Part 91 flight departments, and the work those operators have done to establish a strong safety culture.”

A key point in the discussion was how relevant the elements of a flight department safety culture are to the single-pilot owner/operator environment. FAA officials were particularly interested in expanding the types of resources and programs NBAA and AOPA have made available to light business aircraft (LBA) operators in recent years.

“This processes involves every level of the general aviation community, in collaboration with the FAA,” said Carr.

The agency plans to host a second meeting with the coalition later this year to develop an action plan for working with the industry to further reduce the accident rate.