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NTSB Board Member Discusses Safety Forum with NAFI

NAFI will participate in a National Transportation Safety Board forum focused on general aviation safety issues on June 19-20, 2012 in Washington, DC. The event, "General Aviation Safety: Climbing to the Next Level," will be presided over by Chairman Deborah A. P. Hersman and all five NTSB Board Members will participate.

NAFI Executive Director Jason Blair will be participating in the forum as a panel member discussing "The Role of the Flight Instructor." Blair discussed the forum last week with NTSB Board Member Earl Weener.

The NTSB has issued numerous safety recommendations addressing general aviation operations and last year added general aviation safety to its revamped Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements.

Among the key safety issues the forum will address are pilot training and performance, pilot access to and use of weather-related information, and aircraft design and certification. The panelists participating in the forum will represent industry, government, academia, and professional associations.

Weener is a NAFI member and current CFI, and has been a flight instructor since 1967. In his discussion with NAFI, Weener said flight instructors are important to these safety efforts. “The flight instructor is the only touch point that all pilots must encounter if they are actively flying. Every two years they have a flight review that is mandatory,” he said. “The role of the flight instructor in how they conduct a quality flight review is important to improving safety in the pilot community,” Weener added. Blair concurred. “This is something that NAFI agrees with strongly.   Even though we have a great number of safety focused efforts that pilots can choose to take advantage of, including FAA Wings Seminars, AOPA Air Safety Foundation courses, and others, many pilots do not,” Blair said.

Weener explained that the safety focused role of the NTSB begins with information-gathering. “The NTSB is working to look at what the data can show us about how we can lower our accident rates,” he said.  “There are already some programs in place doing this, one is the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) in which many aviation organizations (including NAFI), the FAA, and other federal agencies work to analyze data and provide guidance that can improve our safety efforts, but we are looking to see if other efforts can be made."  The NTSB has the most complete data sets available to help analyze past accidents and incidents that the aviation community can use to learn from and improve the overall training and currency challenges pilots encounter.

"Accident rates in general aviation have from a pure numbers point remained very stagnant over the past 10 years.  But if we break down the accident rate in GA we see some alarming trends,” Weener said.  “If we took out corporate operations (which have very low accident rates - on par with the airlines), business travel, and flight instruction we would be left with the average general aviation pilot.  These pilots are showing an increase in accident or incident rates of nearly 20 percent over the last 10 years while at the same time the rate for scheduled air carriers has decreased by over 80 percent over the past 12 years," Weener said.

Weener said "the NTSB is looking for new ways to get information out to the aviation community about accident rates, this public forum is one of the ways we are going to do that.  We are going to keep looking at other ways and it is something that everyone can help us with.”

Many pilots aren't familiar with the role that the NTSB takes in aviation accidents, investigation, and safety.  The NTSB originated in the Air Commerce Act of 1926, in which Congress charged the U.S. Department of Commerce with investigating the causes of aircraft accidents. Later, that responsibility was given to the Civil Aeronautics Board's Bureau of Aviation Safety, when it was created in 1940.  Later, all transportation agencies came under the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NTSB was given the responsibility to investigate all transportation related safety concerns including aviation, highway, marine, pipeline, and railroads, as well as accidents related  to the transportation of hazardous materials.  The official charter says: "The National Transportation Safety Board is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families."

The NTSB is not a regulatory agency that makes laws or regulations for the oversight agencies under the DOT, but it reviews and compiles safety information and makes recommendations to make the transportation infrastructure safer.  The NTSB works closely in aviation with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which then makes regulations that all pilots and instructors work with to train and maintain safety.

Blair said that the NTSB is not looking to over-regulate or burden the general aviation community.  In fact, Blair and Weener discussed the NTSB members personal feeling that he is "concerned that the accident rate may be one of the factors stifling the growth of general aviation" and that he believes in a "need to nourish general aviation for both personal travel and as a base for our commercial aviation industry" in the United States.

The forum will be held in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, located at 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W. Washington D.C. The forum is open to the public and free of charge. In addition, the forum can be viewed via webcast at www.ntsb.gov. More information about the NTSB General Aviation Safety Forum can be found by clicking here.