Oct. 19, 2015

A recent forum held by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) focused on the various factors behind what presiding board member Earl Weener termed “the single biggest threat to general aviation in the United States” – loss of control (LOC) accidents.

During the forum, which was titled “Humans and Hardware: Preventing General Aviation Inflight Loss of Control,” more than 20 panelists from various aviation sectors – including flight training and education, regulatory, human performance and aeromedical – discussed factors contributing to the risk of LOC. They also identified potential solutions, such as greater use of angle of attack indicators, enhanced scenario-based training and redoubling pilots’ commitment to maintain situational awareness at all times.

“Since 2008, in the United States, almost 3,000 people have died in fixed-wing general aviation crashes. And almost half of those deaths involved loss of control,” said Weener. “Not every crash is preventable…but many, many are.”

Loss of control is on the NTSB’s “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements, and NBAA’s Safety Committee identified LOC as one of its Top Safety Focus Areas for 2015. In fact, nearly 45 percent of all fatal GA fixed-wing accidents in the last decade have been a result of LOC. View the NBAA Safety Committee’s 2015 Top Safety Focus Areas.

“This isn’t just an issue we see with low-time, inexperienced pilots ” noted Peter Korns, an NBAA project manager of operations. “LOC is a pervasive and serious concern that remains high in frequency across all levels of experience, certificates held and types of aircraft flown.”

NBAA has joined with the FAA and 15 other general aviation (GA) organizations and stakeholders to launch the “Fly Safe” national safety campaign to educate pilots about factors contributing to LOC accidents and providing operators with techniques they can use to avoid them. Read more about the Fly Safe campaign.

NBAA also is an active participant on the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), a collaborative government-industry effort to examine fatal GA accidents and develop recommendations to mitigate threats in GA flying. Korns noted that the GAJSC has completed two studies focused specifically on LOC accidents, and, through its data-driven process, developed 29 safety enhancements in the areas of improved technology, training, safety culture and awareness.

“We’re still at the very beginning of the process to implement effective standards to mitigate risks from loss of control, but there’s also a lot of good industry and government work already underway to raise awareness and present solutions,” Korns said.

Panelists at the NTSB forum discussed a wide range of available and recommended solutions to help mitigate LOC accidents, including increased use and availability of angle-of-attack indicators throughout the GA fleet, and simulating scenario-based LOC conditions in flight training to help pilots recognize and mitigate the threat of LOC in all phases of flight.

However, the greatest potential for mitigating the risk from LOC may come through honest and open discussions on the ground. Korns noted “a remarkable shift in emphasis” throughout the GA industry, “from reacting to fatal accidents to being more proactive.”

“A key component of continued improvement in aviation safety is the collection and sharing of flight data in order to identify hazards ahead of time and mitigate those risks that can lead to an accident,” added Korns. “Pilot reporting and data-sharing programs like ASIAS [aviation safety information analysis and sharing] and FOQA [flight operational quality assurance] are proving to be effective tools in reducing the rate of GA accidents, and require a greater willingness of pilots to share their experiences in a non-punitive environment where operators are not identified by name.”

While there are no easy answers for mitigating the risk of LOC accidents, Weener provided a single, powerful message. “Pilots must maintain situational awareness at all times,” he said. “I can’t stress those last three words strongly enough: at all times.”