That’s the question Richard Collins asks in a new blog post at Air Facts.
He notes: “The higher incidence of accidents in experimental aircraft is just as logical as the fact that the fatal accident rate in private (general) aviation is almost infinitely higher than it is in airline flying. When more freedom is granted by reducing regulations and eliminating stifling procedures, then the risk goes up.”
In general aviation, he notes, “risk management is left solely to the pilot. For experimental-amateur built, that freedom extends to the building and testing of the airplane, though the FAA does have requirements for the flight testing of newly-built E-AB airplanes.”
He continues: “The accident record in private flying when I soloed in 1951 was about like the accident record in experimental flying today. When I started, we were free spirits, a band of brothers, who loved to fly. It was almost holy and we weren’t looking for anyone to save us. We knew that what we were doing was a lot riskier than knitting and we didn’t care. That is all true of many, if not most, experimental pilots today and I think that in both cases the accident record is simply the result of the interface between the romance of flying and the pilots who practice the art.”
“So if you ask me what is wrong with experimental pilots, I say nothing. Just leave them alone and let them enjoy flying.”
The FAA is touting their FAR Part 23 rewrite as the magic elixir which is going to fix everything. Their new buzz word “performance based” is fine but they don’t put their actions where their words are … either in Reg updates OR timeliness Oh, there have been a few improvements but not enough to fix anything. The Part 23 ARC report was dated June 5, 2013 but it took more years for the FAA to move on it … and when they did, major portions of the ARC’s recommendations were NOT — I repeat, NOT — implemented. There’s a picture in that report of more than 40 people standing in a group. Their work was for naught. The good Mr Huerta almost broke his arm patting himself on the back over what they produced at Airventure and all WE have to show for it is a few STC’s for non-TSO’ed equipment. Thanks, Sir.
The Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) worked for more than five years — FIVE YEARS — on their 346 page recommendation document which put forward some excellent ideas and formal recommendations. They even got down to writing the rules for the FAA. The ARC’s stated objective of the FAR Part 23 rewrite was “to achieve a 50% improvement in overall safety while (or possibly by) reducing the overall cost of certification by 50%,making airplanes and equipment more affordable.” They did good work, mostly. Had all the tenets been adopted, we’d be seeing major improvements in GA … but, that just ain’t the way it is.
One area of MAJOR heartburn for me as a 50 year aviator, multiple (old) airplane owner, A&P and outspoken devotee is the FAA’s failure to adopt the tenets of Appendix G: Alterations / Modifications Working Group Papers and Proposals. More specifically, Appendix G-4 proposed a new category of airworthiness, Primary non-commercial, which would have allowed owners of certificated airplanes to relicense their airplanes in a sort of pseudo E-AB category. This would have been similar to the successful Canadian Owner Maintenance Category which has a proven safety record. It would also allow reversal back to a Standard airworthiness category after a condition inspection. This excellent recommendation is nowhere to be found in the FAR Part 23 rewrite.
In the ARC proposal, they say that there are ~190,000 GA airplanes licensed in the US but only 1,000 new ones are being produced annually. They say it will take 200 years to replace the existing fleet. We haven’t got that long !! See the problem.
I could go on but PeterH did a good job of verbalizing the problem. We all know what we’re saying here but are powerless to do anything about it. What a shame !! So what’s wrong with experimental pilots? They learn how to fly in antiquated GA airplanes and suddenly find themselves in 200mph “technically advanced” hotrods.
Under the FAA’s “leadership” light-aircraft GA in this country has gone from “thriving” to “on-life-support and dying”. Some of the worst junk flying around in today’s airplanes is “Certified” or “FAA-Approved” and the current regulatory structure assures that we will continue to have a glacier-like FAA bureaucracy writing more rules simply to ensure their own continued employment.
At this time they are merely tinkering with ways to change the bureaucratic approval process for the next version of the half-million-dollar flying equivalent of the 56-Chevy. The mere existence of this flying equivalent is solid proof that the FAA’s ridiculous process has completely failed. Accordingly, the only way to fast-forward through the lost 60 years of small-aircraft development is to get the FAA completely out of the regulatory business for light aircraft.
Light-aircraft Part-91 operations are currently grossly over-regulated and yet there is absolutely no good reason why they could not be treated exactly the same way the Department of Transportation treats private cars and the Coast Guard treats private boats.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (originally enacted in 1966 and now recodified as 49 U.S.C. Chapter 301) gives the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to issue vehicle safety standards and to require manufacturers to recall vehicles that have safety-related defects or do not meet Federal safety standards.
In most states a (rich) 16-year-old kid can buy a street-legal 840-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Demon which is produced and sold that way without any lengthy and costly FAA-certification process. Are FAA bureaucrats really going to tell me that a hypothetical, non-FAA-approved 180-horsepower puddle jumper would be more dangerous to the public than this Demon??
Similarly, in many states 85-year-old great-grandpa Bob can legally drive his 50,000-pound mega-motorhome pulling a 20,000-pound toy-trailer one a regular driver’s license – and in some states he will even get to enjoy the same 80 mph speed limit on the Interstate as passenger cars – and without any kind of medical certificate!
There are plenty of non-FAA small-aircraft experts out there who could be part of an ongoing effort to write a set of adequate standards that would apply to various classes (0-2,000; 2,001-4,000; and 4,001-6,000 lbs gross weight?) of Part-91-only aircraft, which could then be manufactured, sold and flown without further involvement of the FAA or any other activity-killing bureaucracy.
Stuart Felberg says
I agree wholeheartedly. We have learned a great deal since the onset of aviation and much of it is kept from our reach by idiotic beuacratic regulations.
How bad can a shoulder harness instillation be when done without an stc compared to not having shoulder harnesses?
New carbon fiber props legally used by cub crafter and legend cub as well as numerous experimental aircraft are not allowed on a piper cub yet It’s use, allows an additional two or three gallons of gas and better performance for small aircraft.
The safe operation of every flight is the sole responsibility of the pilot. I feel I would be negligent if I failed to use the best materials and equipment available and I feel that the FAA should be held legally responsible for requiring me to use inferior or outdated equipment.
Stuart Felberg says
The field approval option has become broken. I have seen the faa refuse to allow a mechanic to add a welded bracket which will tie a seatbelt to the frame instead of the seat saying that engineering must approve it when the same mechanic can replace and replace any tube in the aircraft. If the FAA inspector doesn’t have the insight to make good judgement calls they should get out of the way. They are impeding safety.
I found a fuel tank design issue years ago that has caused numerous accidents. I easily obtained field approvals at the time on fixes. Those field approvals or a similiar solution should have been evaluated and adopted by the industry. After numerous advisement to the FAA no AD bullitens were issued, after advising piper, no service bullitens were issued. At the time I could go to the FAA office and sit down and talk to inspectors about issues. Now an interested pilot, instructor or mechanic can hardly get into the office building. If the FAA thinks that they know all and have no need of input or questions from the general aviation community the are sorely mistaken.
Stuart Felberg says
The total experience and expertise of the general aviation community is extensive. The FAA should consider us as partners and should make more of an effort to include us in their learning experience.
Yes do indeed leave us (experimental aviation) alone and to the extent possible and practical – unregulated. If the construction of an experimental amateur built airplane is sound and verified as such by close scrutiny from a professional licensed inspector and the engine installation is likewise properly inspected, connected, monitored and maintained, then the only remaining and sometimes regrettably weak link in the operation of experimental airplanes is the driver. Nevertheless, I’d much rather take my chances in a GA mode of transportation than in a ground mode of transportation on today’s highways and byways where there are far too many weak links (drivers) with poor situational awareness and judgement, “foggy heads” and too many distractions zooming by and around you often at excessive speed. Within the realm of ground transportation lies an accident rate and risk that tops all others combined with a U.S. fatality rate topping 30,000 per year.
Brian Walters says
Has anyone looked into comparing the experimental fleet to the section of the certified fleet with equivalent performance specs? Most of the experimental aircraft I have seen have substantially more performance than most of the certified aircraft you see. This is nice but comes at a cost of less forgiving handling characteristics. I bet if you took the basic trainers like C-172s and Piper warriors out of the certified numbers the fleets would match a lot closer.
I received my pilot certificate in a PA-28-140 while building a Vans RV-7A experimental. The RV’s handling characteristics are superior, in my opinion, than the 140. Performance, of course, is far superior and also more efficient. Dual Dynon Skyview 10″ screens, auto-pilot, AOA and other features make it much safer, as well.
Henry K. Cooper says
There are pilots of experimental aircraft, but there are no “experimental pilots “.
Brian J Garrett says
It was interesting timing on this article as a fellow pilot buddy of mine has strong feelings against experimental aircraft and cited the Lancair because they were “always crashing”. I’m from the other camp where each incident has to be weighed on it’s own merits and I’m not always quick to blame the airplane. Yes experimental aircraft can have flaws from construction, but what the article lacked (from what I could tell) was the amount of experimental aircraft incidents where it was a construction/mechanical failure v. pilot error. I think that would be a better metric to base things on.
Experimental aircraft are not toys and are often better equipped than certified GA aircraft. They are allowed to use more advanced avionics faster due to the clumsy and costly process to certify the gear. And the advanced materials now found in certified aircraft, like carbon fiber were first seen in experimental kits.
And Lancair is more than one aircraft model none of which were ever any more dangerous than say a Bonanza V-tail. The Evolution came out of the Lancair barn and that plane is arguably the most elegant sophisticated pressurized turboprop one can own.
All aircraft, experimental included are flown by current and often far more experienced pilots than you may find climbing into a commercial jet in the left seat.