Expect to keep a closer eye on the weather

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Pilots may have to study more weather and show proficiency in flying by reference only to instruments during a biennial flight review if recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are adopted by the FAA.

Results of a study of weather-related accidents indicates a need for better testing of pilots, improved weather dissemination, and regular demonstration of pilot ability under adverse weather conditions, say NTSB staffers.

Over the years, the number of GA accidents and fatalities has been declining. Accidents related to weather account for 5% to 9% of all accidents. Last year, weather-related accidents were 6% of the total, but accounted for one out of every four fatalities.

NTSB staff studied 72 GA accidents that occurred between August 2003 and April 2004. Of those, 56 involved fatalities. They also interviewed pilots, flying in the vicinities of the accidents near the same times, who were not involved in an accident. Staffers compared information from the two groups. Pilots without instrument ratings were five times more likely to be involved in an accident related to weather than those with ratings. Pilots flying their own planes were more likely to be involved in an accident than those flying rented or employer-owned airplanes. About 76% who had accidents were flying their own planes.

Although the number of flight hours was not a factor, the age at which pilots started learning to fly played a role. Those who earned their licenses before the age of 25 were less likely to be involved in an accident than those who got their first training at a later age. Dr. Vernon Ellington, one of the staff members who conducted the study, stressed that there was no intention to discourage older people from learning to fly. He said the difference was probably that younger students were more likely to aim for a commercial pilot’s position, expanding their training to include instrument ratings.

The study points out that a person seeking a pilot’s certificate can miss every question on the FAA test relating to weather and still receive a passing grade. About 14% of the pilots involved in accidents had low pass rates on written tests compared to 6% of the non-accident group. In practical flight testing, 28% of those in the accident group had poor pass rates compared to 16% in the non-accident group. About 19% of the pilots who were involved in weather-related accidents had been involved in a prior accident or incident, compared to only 10% in the non-accident control group.

The study resulted in several recommendations to the FAA, including: Pilots who do not receive weather-related recurrent training must be tested on weather situations, including use of weather reports and forecasts, on BFRs; BFRs also must include a demonstration of proficiency in flight solely by reference to instruments; applicants must pass a minimum number of weather-related questions on written exams; the FAA should develop a way to identify pilots whose flight history indicates they are a future risk, as well as determine the best way for FSS to deliver information.

The FAA response to the recommendations should be given within 90 days.

Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.

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