Aging Aircraft, Airbags, LSAs And More

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Other GA areas of concern to the safety board, Guzzetti said, include aging aircraft, air-tour operations, unmanned aerial vehicles and flight into thunderstorms. He's also "very intrigued" with any accidents involving GA aircraft with airbags. "We'll be launching on every one of those, and collecting data," he said. The board wants to study the safety benefits, check to see if the airbags deploy or not and why, and watch for any unintended hazards. Aging aircraft are also a concern, with the average age of the GA fleet approaching 40 years. "These airplanes were never meant to fly this long," Guzzetti said. He doesn't foresee life limits being imposed anytime soon, but noted that the board recently sent two safety recommendations to the FAA regarding problems associated with aging GA aircraft -- cracking control yokes and corroding elevator parts. "The NTSB is very closely monitoring this," he said. As for light sport aircraft (LSA), they will also be getting a close look.

"Just as with VLJs, these are an emerging new technology," he said, and thus require extra scrutiny. NTSB investigators will be on scene for every crash of a special-LSA that results in death or serious injury. One area investigators will be watching is whether LSA manufacturers are complying with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) industry standards. "We investigated a fatal accident last year in which we found some non-compliance," Guzzetti said. "We want to be sure that the LSA industry complies with those standards." He added that preliminary figures for this year so far show a "substantial" decline in GA accidents -- down about 20 percent -- which he expects is related to a decrease in flying hours due to high fuel prices and maybe weather. The drop means investigators can be sent to a larger proportion of accidents, he said.