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NTSB Investigates Air Show Safety

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The NTSB held a hearing on Tuesday to learn more about safety standards used in air races and air shows, and although an FAA official said current regulations are adequate, NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman was less certain. "We have 11 ongoing investigations," she said at the close of the hearing. "Certainly, when there's accidents, we know that there's more that can be done." The board heard from a range of experts including air show organizers, regulators, and air show pilot Sean Tucker. Hersman said the panel showed that "if you have a great safety culture, it's always asking about what can be done better, and not saying we want to be complacent." The board doesn't create new regulations, but develops safety recommendations that are passed on to the FAA and other agencies.

John McGraw, FAA's deputy director for flight standards, told the board that he doesn't know of any need for "significant or substantive changes" to the current regulations. "If we become aware of a risk that exceeds the boundary of what we think is acceptable, we will make those changes," he said. "But not currently." John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, agreed. "Are we regulated enough? I think we are," he said. "But that is not to say there isn't always room for improvement." Questions were raised about the qualifications of those who serve as air bosses, and whether they should have to pass some kind of certification. Tucker also suggested that perhaps air show pilots should be held to a higher standard. "The buy-in is a little too easy right now," he said. "It should be a privilege [to fly at air shows]." Others who testified for the board included EAA President Rod Hightower and Jim DiMatteo, who formerly worked as a race director for Red Bull Air Racing. DiMatteo noted that in his experience helping to stage air races around the world, the FAA has the safest standards. The board will issue safety recommendations as it completes its investigations.

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