|Title:||United States total number of aviation accidents and fatal accidents per 100,000 hours from 1997 to 2006|
Start of full article - but without data
Total GA Accidents And Fatal Accidents Per XXX,XXX Hours, 1997 - 2006
Accidents Fatal Accidents
1997 X.XX X.XX 1998 X.XX X.XX 1999 X.X X.XX 2000 X.XX X.XX 2001 X.XX X.XX 2002 X.XX X.XX 2003 X.XX X.XX 2004 X.XX X.XX 2005 X.X X.XX 2006 X.XX X.XX
Note: Table made from bar graph.
We in the general aviation (GA) community are fond of poking fun occasionally at the FAA. Most of the time, it's to highlight a perceived and sometimes real tension between the community and the agency. Frequently, this takes the form of tired cliches such as, "I'm from the FAA and I'm here to help you," or another mythical phrase such as, "We're not happy until you're not happy." When I was FAA's lead GA executive in the early 2000s, my favorite became, "We've just upped our standards, now up yours."
It may not always look like it from the field, of course, but in reality the majority of FAA employees are working closely with their industry counterparts, making a best faith effort to address GA safety issues, both at the national level and in our own backyards. The key question is whether or not such cooperation has been effective in addressing key safety issues and reducing the stagnant GA fatal accident rate.
IN OUR OWN BACK YARD
Most of the GA community is familiar with, and supports, the FAA's proactive grassroots safety program. The FAA Safety Team (FAAST, as it is currently known) has been around since 1971 in one form or another, starting as the Accident Prevention Program and evolving over the years into its current incarnation. The program consists primarily of the well-known Wings Program and live and on-line seminars, hosted occasionally by FAA staff but predominantly conducted by volunteers known as FAASTeam Representatives.
Due to FAA resource constraints, the agency is moving towards more online delivery of both safety materials and courseware. This has met some resistance from some folks who liked the live, in-person seminars, which sometimes included FAA staff and industry presenters telling "war stories." Some of these events still take place but, in general, the FAA is trying to deliver a more professional safety promotion product addressing critical safety issues.
Some critics of the FAAST program, and its predecessor efforts, contend that the program only reaches the "church goers"--those conscientious enough to attend similar meetings usually don't pose a safety risk--and does not reach those who are most likely to have accidents. There is some truth to this, since one's willingness to embrace a safety culture will affect that person's willingness to participate in voluntary safety education efforts. So it's fair to wonder whether FAA and industry safety priorities are effective in reaching the entire community, rather than just the "believers."
We should also look carefully at FAA's safety priorities, and ask whether they target fatal accident causality or whether they address "flavor of the day" events. For example, with all the recent emphasis on runway safety, one could conclude hundreds of GA pilots are dying each year from runway incursions and related accidents. Obviously, this isn't the case. Instead, we actually need to look at FAA/industry national safety priority development processes to see how priorities are actually set.
FAA/INDUSTRY SAFETY GOALS
The current process for FAA and industry safety cooperation at the national level dates to the mid-and late 1990s. The widely publicized ValuJet accident in 1996, along with other events, triggered this and resulted in the Safer Skies program. The airline part of this effort led to the formation of the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). The FAA and industry, through CAST, set an ambitious goal of reducing the airline fatal accident rate by XX percent over a XX-year period, generating some industry skepticism and even cynicism that such a goal was unrealistic.
The GA component of Safer Skies was added almost as an afterthought but, in due course, a General Aviation Joint Safety Committee (GAJSC) was created and began to meet regularly. Both the CAST and the GAJSC followed a similar process for analyzing safety data and crafting safety interventions, although CAST followed a more rigorous and documented data analysis effort. Also created were the Joint Safety Analysis Teams (JSAT), often followed by a Joint Safety Implementation Team (JSIT). These panels were formed to dive down more deeply into NTSB accident reports in an attempt both to divine the true cause of an accident and then devise ways--training, regulations, policies and/or other recommendations--to prevent them in the future. The sidebar on page XX highlights their activities in greater detail.
So, cutting to the chase, how effective have FAA/industry efforts been in addressing safety issues and accident rates? Well, the airlines have achieved an unprecedented XX percent reduction in fatal accident rates over about the last XX years, almost equal to their goal of an XX percent reduction over XX years. In fact, the rate has been reduced so much that many in the airline community and FAA believe that the remaining accident causality is so random it precludes proactive analysis and remediation.
That attitude quickly evaporated after the Colgan Air Flight XXXX accident in February 2009 when two fully functional pilots unintentionally stalled a fully functional airplane, killing everyone on board, plus one on the ground. The resulting publicity and the usual dose of safety politics intervened to produce some truly strange results, but that's another story.
Meanwhile, the CAST soldiers on in virtual anonymity, with neither FAA nor industry telling the public, or Congress, the story of how successful the CAST was in achieving its mission, and that the best results come from hard analysis rather than amateur efforts by the U.S. Congress.
WHAT ABOUT THE GAJSC GOAL?
The story isn't quite as dramatic on the GA side of the world. The GAJSC activities didn't get really moving until 1999, so it would be fair to ask, what's happened to the GA fatal accident rate over the last ten years, say, from 2000-2010? The answer is ... not much. The GA fatal accident rate has hovered stubbornly around a range of about X.XX-X.XX accidents per XXX,XXX flight hours throughout. Some in the community have crowed about the reduction in the raw number of fatal accidents, but that's due solely to the reduction in GA flight hours, not any real improvement in the safety record.
I admit up front it's difficult to compare the airline and GA safety records side by side. After all, the airlines fly turbine equipment with two-pilot highly trained professional crews in a tightly regulated environment. Still, the airline fatal accident rate is about XXX times better than the GA fatal accident rate.
That's right folks, two orders of magnitude better. Surely it can't be the regulated environment alone; after all, corporate turbine GA flights operating under Part XX have a record about as good as the airlines.
Okay, so they have two pilot professional crews and turbine equipment like the airlines. Still, how can that account for the entire gap? See the sidebar on page X for some ideas, then check the one above for ways you can implement your own risk-reduction program.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHANGE
The FAA and industry are beginning to realize a new approach is needed to tackle the plateau in the GA fatal accident rate. For one thing, the FAA and industry have not met their joint goals for GA accident reduction in the last two years. (As an aside, this means FAA executives weren't paid the portion of their bonus tied to that metric. This tends to get your attention as an FAA executive, as I can attest.) As I discovered and knew from the beginning, and as I'm sure my successors have discovered, there is no way FAA alone can succeed. Even with industry assistance, real progress will only occur when the GA culture and training system have changed, and individual members of the community embrace those changes.
Just before writing this article, I attended a regular GAJSC meeting in Washington, representing the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). Change may be in the wind as the GAJSC considers different strategies and approaches. One challenge is how to craft a strategy that meets a goal of FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to reduce the GA fatal accident rate by XX percent over XX years. Accordingly, the GAJSC will begin another data analysis effort that may point the way to the next round of interventions. Both I and some of my industry colleagues emphasize the need for better accident root-cause analysis that could reveal the role of improper risk management in most GA fatal accidents. Most also agree that a XX-percent fatal accident rate decrease is impossible--unless the safety culture and training issues are addressed.
This process could take awhile to unfold, and even longer to demonstrate if we can succeed. Meanwhile, SAFE has elected to jump-start the training reform effort by conducting a Pilot Training Reform Symposium in Atlanta on May X-X, 2011. Interested readers can learn more about this effort at the Symposium Web site, www.pilottrainingreform.org. Other elements in the GA community also seem interested in pilot training reform, although this interest is largely focused on industry growth, rather than safety. One example to watch is AOPA's Flight Training Student Retention Initiative announced at last year's AOPA Summit.
Bob Wright is president of Wright Aviation Solutions LLC and is a retired FAA Executive. He holds Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor certificates and has more than XXXX flight hours. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of any client or organization that he represents.
RELATED ARTICLE: Improving GA Safety
Many industry observers and participants expected the move to technically advanced aircraft (TAA) and "glass cockpits" in GA would improve safety, but it hasn't happened. The new TAA aircraft--at a minimum, one equipped with a moving-map display, an IFR-approved GPS navigator and an autopilot--are experiencing the same fatal accident rates as so-called "legacy" aircraft.
The conclusion? It isn't the aircraft. For example, Cirrus aircraft models have demonstrated an excellent reliability record. The pilot still accounts for XX-XX percent of fatal accident causes.
My own take, based on XX years in the business, boils down to two main reasons why this disparity is so large--and both are within the power of our community to change--if we want to.
LACK OF A SAFETY CULTURE
In the GA world we demand maximum freedom to fly anywhere we want and we think we are invulnerable. That's all right, I'm all for it--but it shouldn't preclude us from taking a risk-management approach to how we operate, and then flying smarter. One problem: We all believe the big lie that the most dangerous part of the flight is the drive to the airport. Driving is still about XX times safer than GA (and about XX times worse than the airlines).
OUR OBSOLETE TRAINING SYSTEM
Although the U.S. civilian training system certainly has evolved over the years, we are still following the same basic model developed during the pre-WWII years of XXXX-XXXX, when GA training doctrine was first formally and officially documented. The doctrine, standards and curricula are maneuver-and rote-based, instructor- rather than student-centered, and largely ignore higher-order pilot skills like risk management.
We should be using more scenario-based training and modifying our curricula to make greater use of simulation.
RELATED ARTICLE: Data Diving
The FAA's Joint Safety Analysis Teams (JSATs) were created to dive deeply into accident files in search of the real root causes of accidents, as both the CAST and the GAJSC recognized problems with NTSB accident files and data. The main issue was--and remains--official NTSB causes and factors in accident reports and files don't describe the root causes of accidents.
Total GA Accidents And Fatal Accidents Per XXX,XXX Hours, 1997 - 2006
Accidents Fatal Accidents
1997 X.XX X.XX 1998 X.XX X.XX ...