April 16, 2015

The need for general aviation (GA) pilots to remain vigilant while operating aircraft immediately following maintenance is among the lessons highlighted in four safety alerts issued earlier this month by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Two of the alerts – one aimed toward GA pilots, the other to aircraft maintainers – cite four recent accidents in which misrigged controls on aircraft coming out of maintenance went unnoticed by maintenance personnel and by pilots during their pre-flight checks. One of those accidents proved fatal to the pilot of a glider. Another case, involving a misrigged elevator trim tab on a Cessna T182T that resulted in “extreme nose-down control forces on the yoke shortly after takeoff,” is the subject of an upcoming video safety alert to be published later this month by the safety board.

“Remember that well-meaning, motivated, experienced technicians can make mistakes,” the NTSB noted in its alert directed toward maintenance personnel. “Ensure that the aircraft owner or pilot is thoroughly briefed about the work that has been performed. This may prompt them to thoroughly check the system during preflight or help them successfully troubleshoot [it] if an in-flight problem occurs.”

Another safety alert highlights the importance of pilots properly familiarizing themselves with the aircraft they are operating, even if they have significant time in type.

For example, the board attributed the fatal June 2013 downing of a Beechcraft King Air 200GT – a modern variant of the popular business aircraft type dating back to the early 1960s – to the distracting effects of the plane’s glass-panel avionics, despite the 15, 150-hour, ATP-rated pilot’s experience in older King Airs.

“Even if you have a lot of experience in the airframe type, it’s important to understand the particular nuances of the specific aircraft you’re flying,” explained Mark Larsen, NBAA senior manager of safety and flight operations. “Different avionics, additional equipment and model variations all add potential risks for pilots who may be high-time, but less familiar, with these systems. Ensure that you are proficient in the operation of the aircraft and the use of all of its systems.”

The fourth alert notes that several recent accidents have been attributed to pilots operating in mountainous surroundings, despite lacking the proper training and safety equipment to handle the nuances of flying in the vicinity of rugged terrain and in high-altitude, high-temperature environments.

“Although these alerts primarily target recreational general aviation pilots, they also offer the opportunity for professional flight departments and their crew members to pause, reflect on these examples, and glean the information that may be appropriate and applicable to them,” Larsen said.

View the NTSB’s recent safety alerts.