Is GA Getting Too Visible For Its Own Good?

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Just about each week these days, anyone perusing the general media can come upon yet another news item reporting the recent growth of non-scheduled aviation operations. Generally, those media reports portray that growth as some modern miracle of science and technology. News coverage goes on to attribute the post-9/11 airline security hassles well-heeled travelers must endure as one of the major reasons for that growth. To be sure, non-scheduled operations have experienced a well-deserved boost in numbers and in new-aircraft sales over the past few years. But with that growth has come the inevitable slew of problems, not least of which is -- in some segments, at least -- safety. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, a "decrease in GA accidents in 2004 continued a downward trend of overall and fatal GA accident rates, which are down about 25 percent over the past 10 years. This reduction in accidents continued even as the FAA estimates that GA flight hours have increased by about 200,000 hours in each of the last three years." But that's not good enough, especially as U.S. scheduled carriers are coming up on a five-year anniversary since their last major fatal accident.

If general and business aviation will ever truly be thought of by the general public as an attractive alternative to getting aboard a 737 or an Airbus, not only does safety need to improve but with it the perception of GA's safety. For now, to avoid being unfavorably compared to the airlines, general and business aviation must constructively battle the widespread public perception that anything lacking an airline logo isn't safe. And that's not always easy. For example, a spate of accidents involving U.S. turbine-powered business and personal aircraft over the last few weeks prompted even a trade-press headline involving the NTSB's investigation and concern. Most recently, however, the general media may have "discovered" GA not just as a safety issue but also as a scapegoat.