The National Transportation Safety Board’s 2016 “Most Wanted List” is out. This is a top 10 list of factors the NTSB feels contribute to unsafe operations across all transportation sectors.
Only one of the 10 call out aviation exclusively.
Loss of Control is back on the list from 2015 and placed at the number six spot on the list. What caught my attention this year was, “Between 2008 and 2014, about 47% of fatal fixed-wing GA accidents in the United States involved pilots losing control of their aircraft in flight, resulting in 1,210 fatalities.” That’s about 173 fatalities per year over the seven year data analysis.
“GA pilot proficiency requirements are much less rigorous than those of airline pilots. GA pilots are much more likely to have longer intervals between training sessions and longer intervals between flights.”
Personally, I get a little nervous when I see the NTSB point out the differences in proficiency requirements between various operators. I fear it is far too easy for the NTSB to add a second sentence stating: Therefore, we recommend Part 91 private aircraft operations adopt the same proficiency requirements as Part 121 operators.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it. I sure hope so.
Fatigue is new this year and one I believe is most relatable to operators of any motor vehicle. “In a recent AAA survey of highway vehicles, for example, 43% of U.S. drivers admitted to falling asleep or nodding off while driving at least once in their lifetime.”
Years ago, I put in a full day at the office, then headed to Sea-Tac for my red-eye flight to Appleton, Wisconsin. I had left our Baron in Oshkosh after the fly-in because the weather was below my minimums and I was coming back to fly it home. Upon landing at Appleton, I hopped in a cab and drove directly to Wittman Regional where I fired up the Baron and headed west. With less than 12 hours sleep in the prior 72, the decision to start my flight home was a bad one. Lucky for me the trip ended successfully. But I can still feel the exhaustion come over me the last hour or two, bucking a headwind, pointing into the warm setting sun and thinking, I really should be on the ground. The stupidity of my youth.
Recording is also new on the list in 2016. While the NTSB appears to target commercial aircraft operations, one can see a point where recommendations will be expanded to include all transportation.
“Crash-resistant data, audio, and image recorders are readily available and can be easily installed in vehicles, vessels, and aircraft that currently do not require crash-hardened recorders. Regulations should require their use, but until that time, operators should proactively procure this technology to improve the operational and safety oversight of their fleets, trains, aircraft, or vessels.
“In aviation, the NTSB recommends the use of cockpit image recorders. We also suggest equipping smaller turbine-powered aircraft with image-recording devices and transport-category and Helicopter Emergency Medical Service rotorcraft with flight recorders. The NTSB encourages operators across the industry to routinely review recorded information in structured programs.”
As cameras get smaller, more powerful and capable of holding hours of video, this recommendation won’t go away any time soon.
Distraction is back. With good reason. All one has to do is look around at their fellow drivers to see all the downcast heads reading the latest text or Sportcenter game update to know this is a problem.
“In 2013, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that more than two out of three drivers indicated that they talked on a cell phone while driving within the past 30 days. More than one of three drivers admitted to reading a text message or email while driving, and more than one of four drivers admitted to typing or sending a text or email.”
I believe this to be less of a problem in the GA, but with the prevalence of iPads in the cockpit, it is all too easy to get sucked into a head-down situation, especially when we aren’t as proficient as we should be with the tools at hand.
Substance impairment makes a repeat visit on the list as well. From the report, “But impairment isn’t just a highway problem. The NTSB is seeing impairment-related accidents in all modes. The NTSB recently studied drug use among fatally injured pilots. The prevalence of potentially impairing drugs increased from an average of 11% of fatally-injured accident pilots during the period from 1990-1997 to an average of 23% of accident pilots during the period 2008-2012. During the same time periods, positive marijuana results increased from 1.6% to 3%. But the most commonly found impairing substance in fatal crashes was diphenhydramine, a sedating antihistamine found in over-the-counter medications.”
The side effects warnings on the medication bottles are there for a reason. Be aware.
Sadly, the NTSB cites a 2007 accident in which a Pinnacle Airlines flight runs off the end of the runway at Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) in Traverse City, Michigan. The Probable Cause abstract says nothing of substance abuse or impairment.
Medical fitness has caused a great amount of turmoil the last few years. The most distress in the pilot community was created by the targeting of those with the physical traits that often produce sleep apnea. But that’s not all the NTSB is looking for.
“The aviation medical certification system may be the most robust, but pilots are increasingly testing positive for over-the-counter sedating medications.”
I believe most pilots agree that being medically fit to fly is crucial. What the pilot community often takes issue with is the power the FAA’s Aeromedical division holds. A doctor I have never met — and will likely never be able to meet — has significant clout over my future as a pilot. The results of the doctor I meet face-to-face for my physical can be cast aside with the flick of a pen.
That’s not right. Never has been, never will be.
In 2015, three of the NTSB’s most wanted exclusively targeted aviation. This year, one. That’s a significant change. Let’s see if we can continue the trend.