October 16, 2012

A comprehensive, independent examination of general aviation (GA) accident rates and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety programs has validated the industry’s efforts to reduce risk in business aircraft operations, as well as the effectiveness of data-driven programs to identify specific areas for further safety improvement.

Titled “General Aviation Safety,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study showed the safety record for business aviation led other GA segments and “was the least common type of operation to be involved in general aviation accidents.” So-called “corporate” operations (an FAA designation for flights conducted by two professional pilots) accounted for less than 1 percent of fatal GA accidents, according to the study.

“These numbers reiterate what NBAA has pointed out for years, which is that generally speaking, business aviation enjoys a safety record comparable to that for the commercial airlines,” said Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of safety, security, operations & regulation.

The study went on to explore the effectiveness of various FAA safety initiatives, pointing to the FAA’s General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) as one of the agency’s more promising efforts. Modeled on a similar program for the airline industry, the GAJSC studies accident and incident data from specific GA segments, and develops strategies to mitigate risks based on its findings.

The study further noted the GAJSC has “the potential to contribute to a reduction in general aviation accidents and fatalities over the long term.”

“The data-driven aspect to addressing GA safety provides us with a targeted result,” Carr said. Stressing that the effectiveness of data-driven safety programs is limited to the amount of data available for study, and many of the GAO recommendations to the FAA focused on improved collection of data pertaining to GA operations. Recording pilot recurrent training and flight-hour information during the registration renewal process was one suggested method to achieve this goal.

“To further reduce the number of fatal general aviation accidents, FAA needs to effectively target its accident mitigations, as it is attempting to do through the GAJSC,” the GAO concluded. “The agency’s ability to do so, however, is limited by a lack of pilot data. Without this information, FAA cannot determine the potential effect of the various sources and types of training on pilot behavior, competency and the likelihood of an accident. The lack of pilot data also makes it difficult to identify the root causes of accidents attributed to pilot error and determine appropriate risk mitigation opportunities.”