In response to USA Today’s latest piece about fires in general aviation aircraft, two of GA’s most powerful advocacy groups, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association released statements blasting what they call the “sensationalistic article.”
This from GAMA’s President Pete Bunce: “Once again, USA Today’s Thomas Frank has not told the full story about general aviation aircraft safety in his story today. As the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), we believe it is important to set the record straight and provide an accurate account on this topic.
GAMA’s Greg Bowles talked for more than three hours with Mr. Frank about general aviation safety to include preventing post-crash fires through improved crashworthiness and manufacturers’ efforts to mitigate the effects of accidents for Mr. Frank’s previous series, “Unfit for Flight.” Unfortunately, Mr. Frank chose not to include the bulk of Mr. Bowles’ remarks that chronicled our industry’s successful efforts to continue to improve our safety record.
Since the original series appeared, there is independent evidence that over the past decade general aviation manufacturers and the industry have made significant progress in making aircraft even safer. Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that preliminary 2013 aviation accident statistics showed a 19% decline over the previous year for fatal general aviation accidents. With a rate of 1.05 fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours, 2013 also marked the lowest accident rate on record for U.S. general aviation.
Despite this progress, our industry is not satisfied. We work tirelessly with government regulators to continually modernize aircraft through the development, installation, and use of safety-enhancing equipment. In just the last few years, our industry has made significant strides to improve the certification process, work closely with industry partners to identify the leading causes of accidents, and introduce new, cost-effective technologies to prevent accidents. We are also working to implement a risk-based set of standards for pilot training. These standards are being tested in Florida right now and, when implemented nationwide, will further improve safety by enabling better pilot decision-making.
Let me explain about each of these important steps in more depth.
To ensure that both the existing and future fleet of aircraft can take full advantage of innovation and new technology, the global aviation community has been working diligently to develop new and improved methods of design and technologies to improve aviation safety. These new developments will assist pilots from inadvertently stalling or spinning their airplanes, will improve crashworthiness approaches based upon the latest research and available technologies, and will improve how the pilot interfaces with the aircraft.
As we seek to bring these new technologies into the marketplace, the general aviation community has worked with the FAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and other world regulators to change the existing regulations for small airplanes —which at times have blocked innovation to the detriment of safety. GA manufacturers were a major proponent of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act (SARA) of 2013, which specifically directs the FAA to remove these regulatory roadblocks by the end of 2015. Congress unanimously passed SARA, and President Obama signed it into law, last year.
Additionally, since 2011, the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) — a dedicated group representing pilots, manufacturers, and regulators — has performed detailed analyses of general aviation accidents over the past decades to reveal the key causes of accidents. The group developed strategies and technological flight management tools to help mitigate the risk of pilot errors while also hardening the aircraft structures against these inevitable human errors or mechanical failures by providing safety-enhancing equipment. These changes will further improve general aviation safety overall.
To address the problem of pilots losing control or aircraft and entering an inadvertent stall and/or spin — which is the leading cause of fatal general aviation accidents — the aviation community and regulators have implemented new designs and installations that allow pilots to put into place extremely low-cost, retrofit devices for the earlier identification of low-speed conditions and potential loss of control. Enabling Angle of Attack indication (AOA) in the entry-level airplanes by ensuring the equipment and installation can be accomplished at an extremely low cost will enable one of the most significant improvements in general aviation safety in decades.
Despite these efforts, accidents do occur. So manufacturers have been active in working to understand and improve accident survivability, from absorbing the initial impact to improving crush resistance and preventing post-impact fires — all of which we discussed with USA Today prior to their initial narrative. The development of new crashworthiness standards and the implementation of new rules as part of the SARA implementation will allow for this work to be more broadly applied in general aviation.
All of these significant safety efforts are making a difference, as the NTSB statistics show. And each day, our employees come to work — throughout the United States and around the world — eager to continue to improve our record of safety.
GAMA believes USA Today’s readers deserve to know the whole story. We wish Mr. Frank and his editors did, too.”
AOPA officials also released a statement: “The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) says that, once again, USA Today has offered its readers sensationalistic and incomplete journalism with its latest story targeting general aviation, namely an article that purports to examine the potential for post-crash aircraft fires.
In the article, the author blames manufacturers for being reluctant to change and improve upon designs. This is a gross distortion. In fact, the manufacturers, AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and others have been active supporters of safety improvements.
One of the real issues has been the need for regulatory change to revise aircraft certification rules and simultaneously improve safety while reducing costs. This reform is designed to streamline the process for incorporating innovative and affordable technologies that will enhance safety. These changes are known as the Federal Aviation Regulation Part 23 reform. At the urging of AOPA and GAMA, Congress in 2013 passed – and President Obama signed – this reform legislation.
USA Today has largely excluded mention of this legislation in its articles on general aviation, presenting an incomplete picture of the safety initiatives that are underway.
Readers will also find that USA Today has ignored information that shows a reduction in general aviation fatalities. For instance, in 2013 general aviation realized its lowest number of fatalities in decades. In fact, federal records show that GA fatalities have declined by 75% since 1973. AOPA submits that this improvement is the result of persistent pilot education, improved flying techniques and safety enhancements in aircraft, such as improved restraints.
Pilot education and aviation safety were primary goals when AOPA was founded 75 years ago, and that mission has not changed. Today we offer more than 300 safety and aviation skills courses, and our work to protect the freedom to fly, and to make flying safer, continues.”See our own Capital Comments columnist Charles Spence’s take on the story — and his attempts to get more information — here.