July 24, 2012

A series of free seminars in the Northeast this summer is bringing attention to a perhaps underpublicized general aviation safety issue – runway excursions. NBAA has joined with United States Aviation Insurance Group (USAIG) and local partners to sponsor presentations in White Plains, NY and Oxford, CT, and an Aug. 9 seminar is planned in Pittsburgh, PA.

“It’s surprising when you look at the frequency at which runway excursions play a role in incidents and mishaps,” said Paul Ratté, director of aviation safety programs for USAIG, who has worked with Dean Saucier, NBAA’s Northeast regional representative, to plan the seminars. Ratté cited a 2011 Robert E. Breiling Associates report that finds approximately 30 percent of the accidents and incidents recorded for the U.S.-registered business jet fleet in 2011 involved runway excursions.

For the U.S.-registered business turboprop fleet, runway excursions were involved in 24 percent of the reported accidents and incidents, according to the report.

Looking back further, data emphasize the need to revisit runway excursion prevention and procedures. Ratté cited National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) figures that find approximately 10 percent of excursion accidents result in fatalities, and he noted that while incursion and confusion accidents prove to be more deadly on a per-accident basis, the much larger number of excursion accidents results in excursions causing the overwhelming majority of runway-accident fatalities.

The NTSB reported that 1,129 fatalities between 1995 and 2010 were caused by runway excursion mishaps involving aircraft with MGTW of more than 12,500 lbs. In that same 15-year period, Ratté said, USAIG processed more than 900 claims and paid out more than $135 million in losses related to runway excursion events.

But rather than overwhelming attendees with facts and figures, the three- to four-hour seminars present real-life situations and give participants the opportunity to debate the question: “Why did that happen?” Ratté, a former U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) pilot, briefs on the data. Chris Stickney, a United Airlines pilot and a former USCG pilot, guides discussion of case studies. And Gary Cooke, a corporate pilot and a U.S. Air Force Reserve safety officer, walks attendees through an excursion he experienced when landing on an icy Michigan runway.

The seminars have proven popular. “Every single individual who attended either seminar walked away just absolutely lauding the presenters as well as the program,” Saucier said. “It’s fast moving, it’s fast paced, and the information is presented in a manner that keeps the audience’s attention.” About 45 people attended the White Plains event, hosted by the Westchester Aviation Association, on May 1, and 60 came to the June 20 Waterbury-Oxford Airport program, hosted by the Connecticut Business Aviation Group.

Saucier hopes the upcoming seminar will build enthusiasm in western Pennsylvania, where he would like to see a regional group form. The Pittsburgh program is a full-day version of the previous two, with an added workshop on human-factors issues by Bombardier Safety Standdown founder Bob Agostino and presentations by aviation attorneys on how the criminalization of aviation accidents impacts safety.

Next on Saucier’s agenda is flightcrew fatigue, which he plans to address in a safety seminar series in the spring.