WASHINGTON — Transportation safety has been generally improving across the board except in one area: general aviation.
“We’re troubled that the general aviation safety trend has been flat for few years,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart told WTOP. “When you break out the personal flying from the business flying, the business flying is improving which means the personal flying is getting worse which is troubling.”
Hart addressed the topic with attendees of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Homecoming Fly-in Saturday morning in Frederick, Maryland.
“We are the accident investigators, so we are there when something goes wrong,” Hart explained. “That’s why we inform the process of improvement is because we see what actually went wrong as opposed to what might go wrong. We’ve seen it and been there up close and personal with what really did go wrong.”
The NTSB investigates about 1,500 general aviation accidents every year, whereas the agency can go years at a time without a commercial aviation accident. The biggest cause of death in general aviation crashes is from loss of control, generally some form of aerodynamic stall.
“It basically comes down to the familiarity of the pilot with the machine, the situation, and being ready for the unexpected,” noted Hart.
The NTSB chairman also said there are other factors that pilots need to consider to understand their risk when they takeoff.
“How current are you, how long has it been since you last flew, how good is your training, are you ready to go into that weather you are expecting to encounter, do you even know what the weather is you expect to encounter?”
Hart said that pilots need to know the weather conditions, whether that is thunderstorms rumbling through in the summer or ice in the winter, to help reduce their risk of a crash. He also recommended shoulder belts for all on board rather than lap belts to reduce the chance of death just in case something does go wrong.
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