‘Mastery’ in Focus at NBAA Single-Pilot Safety Standdown
Oct. 21, 2019
Promoting open and honest discourse about the events leading to business aircraft accidents is a staple of NBAA’s annual Single-Pilot Safety Standdown, held prior to the opening of the 2019 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE). This year’s well-attended session, “Pursuing Mastery in Single-Pilot Business Aviation Operations,” began with a collaborative review of two such accidents.
“We’re going to roll heavy right out of the gate with some scenario-based training, with the specific intent to stimulate some critical thinking about what could have been done differently or better,” said NBAA Safety Committee Chairman Tom Huff.
In the first study, a single-engine turboprop encountered severe icing while climbing through 15,000′ and crossing through a cold front after departing from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport (TEB) bound for Atlanta, GA. The pilot, believed to have as many as 700 hours in type, responded to an ATC advisory of moderate icing with confidence in his aircraft’s ability to handle icing and requested a climb to FL200. The aircraft was out of control and diving to the ground less than one minute later.
Perhaps most troubling was that none of the pilot’s decisions were obviously questionable, noted Richard McFadden, executive director for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute. “There’s really nothing that’s blatantly illogical, all the way through this. The ice caught up to him a lot faster than he anticipated, and before long it was beyond his capabilities.”
In the second example, convective monsoonal weather closed in on a twin-engine piston aircraft shooting an approach to Socorro Municipal Airport (ONM) in New Mexico, forcing the pilot to find the best choice among several bad options: flying into a restricted area for White Sands Missile Range where skies were still clear, and where he could buy some time to determine the next step.
Additional standdown discussions included a review of accident data from 2018 that showed 72 percent of accidents involving business aircraft were operated by single pilots, with an average loss claim of $7 million for each passenger fatality – numbers that have led to skyrocketing insurance rates for business aviation pilots.
“We’ve experienced a number of years with declining rates, but that party is over,” said aviation insurance consultant Lance Toland. “All of these losses are costing everybody money.”
One way pilots may combat this trend, while also improving their own operational safety standards, is to become an active member in an aircraft owner group or type club.
“These clubs offer a way for pilots to bounce ideas off each other and discuss things they’ve seen,” said Jeff Wofford, CAM, director of aviation for Commscope and moderator of a panel discussion with representatives from Cirrus, Mitsubishi MU-2, Pilatus and Cessna Citation owner groups. “It provides them essentially with a ‘phone a friend’ option.”
The event closed with a keynote presentation by retired NASA astronaut Charles Precourt, who told attendees he reviews every one of his flights to identify ways he could have improved his own performance – including while at the controls of the space shuttle Atlantis in 1997, when a last-second wind gust pushed the unpowered orbiter well left of the runway centerline on landing.
“After all the training, sometimes your best work is just barely good enough,” he concluded. “It’s about culture, and how we motivate ourselves [to do better.] We have a freedom to operate, and we prefer to do so self-regulated, so let’s protect that.”
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