Airbags For Airplanes

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Back when I was first starting out, I spent some time at a local airport and wrote a newspaper profile about a small airline based there. The day the story came out, an airplane crash at the field took the life of a local pilot, a young guy who crashed on takeoff, and died when his head hit the control panel. I thought of that again the other day when the NTSB made its push for airbags in GA airplanes -- I don't doubt that an airbag could have saved that guy, and probably even a shoulder harness would have done the trick. Most pilots can probably think of similar incidents.

Yet as soon as the story appeared in this week's AVwebBiz that the NTSB wants to mandate shoulder harnesses in GA airplanes, we started to see reaction against it in the AVweb inbox.

The NTSB analysis showed that just replacing a lap belt with a shoulder harness can reduce the chance of serious injury or death in an accident by 50 percent. I can understand the resistance to being forced to spend money on an airplane, but this seems like a no-brainer to me -- all seats should have shoulder harnesses, and all new airplanes should have airbags, too. In the overall scheme of things, it seems a reasonable expense with a worthwhile return.

Comments (56)

Many years ago I was involved in the crash of a Piper 140. When the engine quit, one of the first things I did was fasten the shoulder harness to the seat belt. We hit, wrecked the airplane, walked away with very minor injuries. That night when I took my shirt off, there was a large, red welt across chest from the shoulder harness. I had not even realized how hard I had hit that harness, but our injuries would have been much worse if I hadn't had the welt. Needless to say I am a big fan of shoulder belts. I can only imagine that airbags would be even better than a passive shoulder belt. On the other hand Airbag retrofits in the two front seats costs over $5000 with installation. That is one expensive mandate.

Posted by: Kingsley Hill | January 12, 2011 8:12 PM    Report this comment

This is one of those stories that makes me wonder if I live in a parallel universe. In 25 years of flying I don't think I've ever seen an airplane that did not have a shoulder harness. This is a spoof story, right? Not only do I agree with Mary that it is a no-brainer, but I'm astonished that there are other pilots on the planet that don't think so.

Posted by: ANDY DAVIS | January 13, 2011 4:46 AM    Report this comment

I've always thought that seat belts, i.e. lap belts, are useful in airplanes to deal with in-flight turbulence rather than crash mitigation. Shoulder harnesses are just a pain for pilots in normal operations since they can get in the way of reaching for distant controls on the instrument panel.

I wonder how many actual lives can be expected to be saved with shoulder harnesses or explosive ones in GA. I suspect most GA accidents are either so minor that the shoulder harnesses have no use or so violent (e.g. CFIT) that they also make no difference. Fatal accidents are so rare in GA that I think making a few of them more survivable might extend the life expectancy of an average pilot by 5 minutes or so.

That all doesn't mean I think shoulder harnesses or explosive harnesses should be banned from cockpits. It does mean I think they need a lot more justification before being made mandatory.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | January 13, 2011 4:56 AM    Report this comment

I wonder why there is such focus on shoulder harnesses in GA aircraft but no attention is being paid at all to the traveling public on airliners.

If shoulder harnesses are such a critical need in light planes why aren't they needed in transport category ones?

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | January 13, 2011 5:00 AM    Report this comment

Actually, I suspect there are not that many planes out there without shoulder harnesses in terms of total quantity; mostly some antiques. So why the fuss? How many antique cars are there out there without airbags? How many motorcycles? Nowdays, with excess government trying to justify their jobs, we just have to have a rule for everything.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | January 13, 2011 6:41 AM    Report this comment

Here's an apples-to-apples comparison. Ten years ago my flight instructor and his student sustained an engine failure on takeoff in a shoulder harness equipped 182. The instructor's shoulder harness was detached, but the student's was attached. The instructor used his excellent piloting skills to put the plane down and the student walked away with painful, but minor, injuries. The instructor had a concussion that required months of hospitalization and rehab. He has never flown again and the injury ended his flying career.

The front seat only shoulder harnesses in our plane are uncomfortable, but I never land or takeoff without them. A "$5000" airbag retrofit is a possibility but improved front and rear seat shoulder harnesses may be sufficient.

Posted by: JAMES GRANT | January 13, 2011 7:01 AM    Report this comment

There's no end to things that can be done to promote safety. It is an ongoing crusade to protectus from ourselves. The rationale is always that if it saves lives it is worth it. Then I ask in all seriousness, why fly if safety is such a concern. Staying on the ground is the chespest and most cost effective way to save lives. There is another article on today' s Avweb that indicates that some people are advocating this point of view. There will be howls of protest from some of the very ones advocating for a mandate that suits them.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | January 13, 2011 7:15 AM    Report this comment

I can see requiring shoulder harnesses in all new a/c, but I do not believe that there is justification for requiring a retrofit of older, existing airplanes. My 1979 TR182 has shoulder restraint in the front seats, but not in the back. I would guess that I have flown 99% of my flights with no one in the back seats. I also believe that Feds require this sort of thing simply because they can, which is not the case with automobiles.

However, I will NEVER install an explosive device (of which air bags are an obvious example) in an aircraft which I own, nor will I fly in one as a passenger. Any one who asserts that these igniters cannot accidentally deploy is not dealing with reality.

BTW, I have walked away from a totalled PA-11 in which there were no shoulder harnesses installed.

Posted by: Bill Hill | January 13, 2011 7:17 AM    Report this comment

I and my crew were in a major aircraft "crash." Accident scenario very similar to a likely GA crash. Engine failure, hit the ground and trees at about 90 knots, tumbled end over end then to the side. Myself and co-pilot had our shoulder harness on, we were locked tight back in our seats (standard practice during target attacks). Gunner and crew chief gunner tightly strapped into their seats but no shoulder harnesses. Gunner & crew chief shaken up but not hurt because of how they were situated in the aircraft. Myself and co-pilot were in position to receive worst injuries but were not hurt at all in the accident. However, the co-piolt was hit by a smoke grenade that was thrown from another aircraft to mark our downed aircraft position so other aircraft fireing in our area would not shoot us(more humorous than serious unless we were hit). I firmly believe that the shoulder harnesses, and the fact that they locked us back in our seats (it was our SOP and I enforced it) made all the difference in the result. As for the crew chief and gunner had the aircraft taken another roll or turn in the trees they would probably have been seriously injured or killed I think. The fact that they were very tightly strapped in and with nothing to hit them in the head or upper body probably made the difference in their situation. I believe shoulder harnesses and probably airbags should be installed in all new aircraft and owners should consider them for older aircraft.

Posted by: Paul Hollowell | January 13, 2011 7:34 AM    Report this comment

My guess is the objectors do not argue against the fact that shoulder harnesses and airbags make occupant survival in a crash more likely -- that IS a no-brainer. But is it appropriate for the government to mandate their installation and use?

Every safety device has both a measurable cost and a measurable safety benefit. If we're talking about an individual's likelihood of harming others then I believe it appropriate in some circumstances for government to make analyses. When the likely harm is to the individual alone -- say in the case of motorcycle helmets -- why should the government's desires trump the individual's?

If an individual decides the increase in crash survivability is not worth the cost of upgrade why should the government have the authority to overrule that decision?

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 13, 2011 7:54 AM    Report this comment

Why stop with shoulder harness and airbags? Why not require the use of crash helmets as many states do for motorcycles? There is no end to this.

Once they are installed in the airplane who's going to make sure the pilot and passengers uses them? How about the regulators leave us alone!

Posted by: Danny King | January 13, 2011 8:06 AM    Report this comment

It is not a question of whether or not seatbelts and shoulder harnesses reduce injury or save lives. The evidence is clear, and convincing, that they do. But there is a question as to whether government has the authority to madate their use. Are we a free people, or are we not? Are we responsible for our own well being, or are we not? Do we have the right to "Life, LIBERTY, and the Pursuit of Happiness", or do we not?

Posted by: Michael Dean | January 13, 2011 8:32 AM    Report this comment

The argument against shoulder harnesses is not actually against shoulder harnesses, but against one more piece of personal freedom taken away by our government. Sure, shoulder harnesses save lives, as do motorcycle helmets. I never fly or ride without them. Heck, I wear a helmet and a parachute in my (warbird) airplane. If I choose to risk injury or death by not doing so however, it should be MY choice, not that of the Nanny State. We are becoming Sheeple, not free people.

Posted by: J. B. Stokley | January 13, 2011 8:36 AM    Report this comment

I noted that a few uninformed folks thught all planes had shoulder harness, not so,most older ones dont. As for me, shoulder harness is a good thing, air bags are stupidist idea the govt has come up with. Some of the turb I have encountered would likly deply it. Second, how would it be mounted? I have a stick, no place on the panel availible, and space is a premium.

Posted by: Charles Heathco | January 13, 2011 8:57 AM    Report this comment

The case of motorcycle helmets is not the same and should not be used as a comparison. Motorcyclists without helmets often end up with serious medical expenses that end up being paid for by taxpayers, that is why the government can and should mandate their use. The same is not the case for small airplane shoulder belts.

Maybe a better comparison is if shoulder belts enhance safety, and whole airframe parachutes do too, why not mandate both on all airplanes? Can or should the government require all airplane owners to spend $100 on a safety device? How about $5000? $25,000? The question is, where do we draw the line.

Posted by: peter vans | January 13, 2011 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Kingsley, the NTSB didn't suggest a mandate to retrofit airbags, but suggested that shoulder harnesses should be required. They also said their research showed that airbags are effective.

Posted by: Mary Grady | January 13, 2011 9:06 AM    Report this comment

The point of the study was to show that shoulder harness use does in fact prevent injury and increase your safety margin by over 50%. The use of Airbags increases your safety margin by another 20%. GA is by its very nature a safe industry. Those of you who say "it will never happen to me" need to understand that you may be right, but you may be wrong as well. Engine failure, prop failure, fuel contamination, aircraft structure failure, pilot error, fuel starvation are all issues that occur every year, despite all we do to prevent. 80% of ALL GA aircraft accidents happen at the airport. Not the flight into terrain crashes (very rare) but the normal "hey things are not going well with the takeoff or landing" accidents. These accidents are survivable with the right equipment on board. The main cause of injury and fatality is striking the panel and flight controls. Airbags are designed to only deploy in a crash, turbulence or hard landings do not set it off. They are deployed using compressed gas (helium) and deploy from the lapbelt or shoulder harness depending on the aircraft. They price range is from $3,200 up to $4,500 depending on the kit (for two seats in each kit). Those who posted comments about our system should visit the website at www.gaairbags.com to find CORRECT information.

Posted by: RIchard Heitzman | January 13, 2011 9:22 AM    Report this comment

Shoulder harnesses in GA airplanes were not mandated until the 70's. My '75 C172M has them in the front but my '67 PA28-140 does not. When I fly the Piper, I always feel "naked" without the shoulder harness. The installation of shoulder harnesses in my Piper would be a substantial maintenance event and could - potentially - open one to subsequent liability when the airplane is sold. So ... despite knowing I'm better off WITH one - the Piper will remain bone stock. The pertinent issue here is one of the Government MANDATING things to me. They can present the case FOR installing them all day long but mandating them is a whole different issue. Peter Vans point is correct. If airframe parachutes are better, why stop at mandating shoulder harnesses. WAIT! I have it ... just kill general aviation, keep all the pilots on the ground and they'll all live longer ... yeah ... that's it. It's time that the Governmet get out of the "face" of Joe Q. Public.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | January 13, 2011 9:29 AM    Report this comment

According to AmSafe, sole manufacturer of seat belt airbags, the system has life limited parts that must be rebuilt and replaced on a schedule. Presumeably, if airbags are mandated so is the replacement schedule for life limited parts. According to the Wall Street Journal, who cited the NTSB study of seat belt airbags, the cost of aircraft airbags for both front seats would be about $2000 for the initial installation. No costs were provided for replacement of life limited parts, including replacement of the system which is itself life limited. Replacement costs are not published on the AmSafe website. Assuming the costs are in the ball park, amortized over the life limit of the equipment (and ignoring likely ADs and periodic maintenance costs for the airbag installation) this amounts to the cost of 2-3 hours of dual every year. So the question is this: Is a gadget a better safety investment than training? The FAA and aviation insurance companies seem to think that training is a really good investment. The problem is that many pilots are reluctant to make the investment for a variety of reasons. I think most of us can agree that AVOIDING the accident is preferable to HAVING the accident. Pilot proficicy is very strongly correlated with safety. Rather than mandating another gadget, I suggest we take the money and invest in annual training. An accident avoided altogether is much more survivable than one we MIGHT survive with an airbag.

Posted by: John Townsley | January 13, 2011 9:52 AM    Report this comment

I've always thought shoulder harnesses in a single-engine airplane are a great idea. BUT, as a pilot of a twin, I think they should be an option rather than requirement. If I have an accident in my twin that would test the mettle of a shoulder harness, the accident would likely be my fault (improper single-engine technique, running out of fuel, etc). In addition, those who say shoulder harnesses are an "inexpensive upgrade" are not doing their research very well. To add shoulder harnesses to our 1968 Baron would cost upwards of $5,000 and requires the addition of structure in the canopy section of the roof. And then we'd have a "jungle" of 4 straps hanging from the ceiling that the rear seaters would have to contend with every time they enter or exit the airplane. To me, this expensive ergonomic disaster is not worth the perceived safety gain in a twin.

Posted by: PETER BEDELL | January 13, 2011 10:05 AM    Report this comment

"all new airplanes should have airbags"

WHY? You gave no reasons at all to support your feelings. That's a poor attitude when it comes to Aviation technology, expense, and maintenance and safety.

And no, I cannot think of "similar incidents" unless you give details of the crash. Just saying "someone died in a crash on takeoff" lacks any way to evaluate what happened.

I think we've already seen that even ballistic chutes and 37G seats are not saving lives in Cirrus planes. Airbags are another "seemingly" good idea that would cost millions and actually do very,very little.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 13, 2011 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I bought a 1958 Cessna 172 in 2004 and the very first item I bought for it was a four point shoulder harness installation for the front seats. I did some work as a crash investigator and know first hand the damage that can be caused to unrestrained crew in accidents.

I rarely ever have rear seat passengers so haven't yet installed 4 point rear seat restraints.

General aviation accidents are far, far more common than airline accidents. In addition airline passengers don't have sharp edged instrument panels, controls, and aircraft structure in front of them. So the argument for 4 point restraints is much, much greater for general aviation aircraft.

Later I also added vortex generators and flap gap seals to my aircraft. I considered these both safety and performance improvements. The greatly improved handling and lower landing speeds were well worth the modest costs of these improvements.

Posted by: Rol Murrow | January 13, 2011 12:04 PM    Report this comment

No one disagrees air bags save lives. The real issue is not safety, but government intrusiveness.

I ask where does it stop, and where does individual responsibility start? If safety is paramount, it’s obvious the government should mandate we wear helmets 24/7 lest we suffer head trauma from falling objects. And perhaps when the temperature dips below 70 degrees, we must wear long sleves and jackets so we don’t catch cold… Of course both actions will undoubtedly reduce injuries, sickness and therefore medical costs.

Somewhere you have to use common sense & rely on personal responsibility.

As pilots we all make multiple safety decisions every time we fly.

So you have to ask, “Why does the government want to mandate installation of airbags?”

The common answer is “To prevent injuries and save lives.”

I think if you pull the string, although Big Brother won’t admit it, the real reason would be to save costs, which the government believes it pays when you have non insured people injured, hence the push for recent mandatory healthcare.

So if you draw the conclusion that the government would mandate airbags to reduce injuries, save lives and reduce medical costs, then the government should pay for retrofits and subsidize installation in new aircraft, since the government is the primary benefactor.

Of course I would also hazard that those of us who can afford to own or fly airplanes, generally have health insurance and can also make decisions concerning our own safety.

Posted by: John Wrenn | January 13, 2011 12:09 PM    Report this comment

"No one disagrees air bags save lives."

I do. Aircraft accidents differ substantially from automotive accidents. Airplanes themselves differ too because they not "crash rated" nor are their fuel systems, interiors, or electrical systems. Airplanes are so dangerous just from a crumple and fire standpoint that I seriously doubt that something more than a 3 point seat/shoulder belt would help.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 13, 2011 12:46 PM    Report this comment

Mark, the NTSB did a careful analysis of the data available on airbags in airplanes, and while the data set is small, they concluded that they saved lives, based on the data.

They did not suggest that airbags should be mandated.

More info at http://ntsb.gov/Pressrel/2011/110111.html.

Posted by: Mary Grady | January 13, 2011 12:59 PM    Report this comment

This is one stepremoved from the focus of the thread. What I wish to show is that safety minded people armed with some kind of authority to impose their will for our well being know no bounds. That is no hyperbole. Today when I walked into my workplace and picked up the daily rag the company put out was a safety announcement. Henceforth no one should walk and talk while on the work floor. I kid you not. Anyone participating in this thread who scoffs because they are underr the impression that government would not go so far; Inhave a bridge to sell you.

Posted by: Michael Mahoney | January 13, 2011 2:30 PM    Report this comment

Do you think more lives would be saved if the NTSB mandated all automobiles and trucks, not having airbags, have them installed retroactively? Why not have all the airlines install airbags for every passenger? I guess some might say the NTSB is really safety conscious because they seem to have plenty of ‘airbags’.

Posted by: Douglas Manuel | January 13, 2011 2:49 PM    Report this comment

"Mark, the NTSB did a careful analysis of the data available on airbags in airplanes, and while the data set is small, they concluded that they saved lives"

No, the study said airbags likely mitigated injuries, it never mentioned saving lives. Words have meaning and the NTSB is not sharing your opinion that all new planes be equipped with air bags.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 13, 2011 2:50 PM    Report this comment

No one disagrees air bags save lives. The real issue is not safety, but government intrusiveness.<<

Actually, some people might disagree. But even if you're right, the emphasis on government intrusion versus your own noggin is misplaced. I get the resisting the intrusion part. I write about it myself a lot.

I can think of reasons to not have an airbag, but the very last one is because the government is forcing me to do it. You have to have seatbelts in cars and, in most states, you're required to use them. Want to go back to the hairy days of 1961, when they weren't required, just in the name of less government intrusion? Huge hue and cry from the don't-tread-on-me-crowd when seatbelts were adopted. They got over it.

How about safety glass? Required by the government. Want to go back to 1938 when car accidents involved people being sliced to ribbons in fender benders?

We have this argument all the time in the motorcycle community of which I am a part. The helmet-vs-no-helmet data so overwhelmingly favors helmets that you have to wonder why they aren't required everywhere. (They are not in Florida.) If the data said otherwise or were ambiguous, I'd give it a pass. But it isn't.

So no, it never stops. One person's progress is another's nannyism. Different people draw the line in different places. But if nanny didn't intrude once in awhile, many of us would be dead.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 13, 2011 4:09 PM    Report this comment

peter vans your argument is often trotted out in discussions regarding motorcycle helmets, and it's one that can be applied to just about anything that is legal and bad for you. Even if every rider went helmetless I would hazard a guess that the number of deaths each year directly attributable to poor diet and lack of exercise would still far, far outweigh the number of deaths attributable to motorcycle accidents. Yet we don't allow the government to mandate diet and exercise standards.

Further, motor vehicle insurance is a requirement in every state. To accurately determine how those who choose not to wear a helmet affect costs you would have to determine which ones are not covered by insurance. Compared to the number of cars, the number of motorcycle accident victims whose injuries actually cost the state anything is vanishingly small.

Paul, insurance costs coupled with similar market forces would have driven at least the option for the safety devices you mentioned in automobiles without government intervention. Look at the emphasis manufacturers are placing on the "safety rating" gotten from insurance industry-sponsored testing. Manufacturers routinely go above and beyond mandates to make their products safer when the market demands it. And as far as motorcycle helmets, some states have actually come to their senses and are repealing the mandates.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 13, 2011 4:38 PM    Report this comment

Regarding my previous post, I meant to say motorcycles are a luxury, and most who own them can afford insurance. Compared to uninsured automobile drivers, the costs to the state for uninsured motorcyclists is vanishingly small. One estimate I read suggests the total government costs for uninsured motorcyclists amounts to less than one-tenth of one percent of the total spent to pay for uninsured motor vehicle injuries nationwide.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 13, 2011 4:46 PM    Report this comment

THe NTSB does not have enforcement authority, they can only recommend. Regulations and laws protect the general public, and the society, by popular voice, dictates what laws and regulations are acceptable. The FAA will take the recommendation of the NTSB and work with the community to generate policy. If you don't like the proposed policy then voice your opinion. BUT the facts stand for themselves. Don't find fault with equipment that saves lives, and yes they have and will continue to save lives. Not once during the entire board meeting did anyone say they wanted to make airbags mandatory. LIfe limited items in the airbag system are 7 years for the electronic module battery, 10 years on the inflators (compressed helium gas) and then 14 years on the electronic module itseld.

Posted by: RIchard Heitzman | January 13, 2011 4:49 PM    Report this comment

Paul, insurance costs coupled with similar market forces would have driven at least the option for the safety devices you mentioned in automobiles without government intervention.<<

Not really. If you get a chance, read Lee Iacocca's autobiography on how GM and Chrysler pushed back against Ford's early campaign for seatbelts as an option and other safety gear. Until the NHTSA mandated it, Ford got no traction on seatbelts, from insurers or customers. (Only 2 percent bought belts as an option from Ford by the mid-1960s. Some actually had them removed.)

Would another 10 years of slaughter on the highways for want of a simple improvement finally forced the insurors. Maybe. Tell that to the relatives of people killed in crashes. I'm sure they'll resonate with the high principle of keeping the government out of our lives.

Point is, there is a place for government to intercede without interceding in everything. When I see people automatically kneejerk in either direction--for or against regulation--I do my own kneejerk, I guess. I think each case deserves evaluation on its technical and economics merits first, without straining it through an ideological sieve.

For what it's worth, I favor mandatory seatbelts in cars, but not airplanes. NHTSA had the data; the NTSB has too little to be convincing.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 13, 2011 6:55 PM    Report this comment

Regarding my previous post, I meant to say motorcycles are a luxury, and most who own them can afford insurance.<<

I don't know how involved you are with motorcycling, Mark, but this generalization is not supported by the facts. A big problem, at least here in Florida and in some other states, is that many motorcyclists are underinsured.

I'll give you an example. I have a sportbike (among others) which costs about $150 to insure for liability. No medical. If I add collision, it's another $1500. I don't have collision. Now a lot of kids who buy sport bikes will have to pay $3000 or more to insure them, so they don't. They get the minimum requirement and go naked. Do you think these guys add the medical coverage? You know the answer. It's less true of middle-aged riders--if they're employed and have health insurance--but insurance doesn't make the problem go away.

So a mandatory helmet law, which I favor, helps with that. A little. In Florida, riders under 21 have to wear helmets. That helps some. I object less to the guy who wants the freedom and wind in his hair then I do the BS data groups like ABATE come up with to argue against helmets. This is another case for which I see a clear collective good. I guess I'm a victim of my own non-ideological thinking.

In message above, I meant to say I don't favor mandatory airbags in airplanes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 13, 2011 7:11 PM    Report this comment

"Would another 10 years of slaughter on the highways for want of a simple improvement..."

Paul, The topic is AIRPLANE airbags and the NTSB did not conclude that they "saved lives" in airplane accidents. That's a HUGE deal because it directly counters the assertion (by Mary Grady) that it's a no-brainier to put them in all new aircraft.

I'm sure that wearing helmets in airplanes would also "mitigate injuries" but are equally more of a bother than real safety....

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 13, 2011 8:40 PM    Report this comment

So let me get this straight, in a country that has over 25 states that allow you to ride a motorcyle capable of going 180 mph without a skidlid we actually have people advocating a rule to mandate explosive airbags in general aviation aircraft the large majority of which are nowdays at least 35 years old and when manufactured were lucky to have a seat belt let along a shoulder harness. I for one as an owner of four classic aircraft will not be adding these to any of my aircraft regardless of any mandate. Once again it appears the leftists in our country and government are going to try and legislate safety and protect us from ourselves. Those who disagree need to reread Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged---RCW--M.D. Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Specialist------P.S. You are 25 times more likely to be killed or injured while hitting a deer with nyour car than while flying your aircraft.

Posted by: richard wecker | January 13, 2011 9:04 PM    Report this comment

I flew cropdusters for more than 15 years and I can attest from experience that shoulder harnesses DO work. Engine failure caused all my accidents and had I not been using the shoulder harness I'm sure I would not be here to write this comment now. I had whelts on my chest from the harness but it sure beat my face being plastered all over the instrument panel. I put shoulder harnesses in all the aircraft I flew back then and that was in the fifties-sixties. I required all that occupents with me wear it when they flew with me. I'm a believer.....

Posted by: Bernie McAda | January 13, 2011 9:28 PM    Report this comment

Bernie,you have the same sentiments as the NTSB. Shoulder harnesses work great is survivable crashes. No one has any data that airbags make aircraft crashes survivable. Concluding that airbags WOULD save lives is a stretch beyond reason and data. Forcing expensive equipment to me mandatory based on non-sense is not pro-aviation.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 13, 2011 9:48 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I'm sure we could have a grand debate about motorcycle helmet use, but no matter how you slice the numbers, the fact remains the societal cost for medical care for the relatively small number of un- or under-insured riders is a poor excuse for government intrusion on individual rights and responsibilities, especially when compared to the societal costs for the totality of ALL of America's bad habits. We live in a free society, one in which people are free to behave in self-destructive ways, the consequences for which society picks up the tab. Using those costs as reason for giving up liberty can lead to many undesirable consequences, such as a pervasive public belief it is not only the government's responsibility, but within the government's constitutional power, to make certain decisions that should rightly fall to individuals.

We are rapidly approaching a point in our country's history where the majority of important decisions in individual lives are made by someone other than the individual. A landmark case soon to be heard by the US Supreme Court will decide if the government can not only restrict citizen behavior (something we all agree is sometimes necessary), but if it can actually punish Americans for inactivity, for the simple fact of having been born in America and NOT doing what the government says you MUST do. I'm sure I don't have to elaborate on the potential for horrifically bad unintended consequences should that decision go the wrong way.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 14, 2011 9:40 AM    Report this comment

We as a society must decide if it is our own responsibility to care for ourselves, to make life and death decisions for ourselves and our families, or if we want the government to do those things for us. I predict that if we do eventually lose our responsibility, it will be one small measure at a time, and each measure will appear to make perfect sense when debated as a single topic.

Posted by: Mark Sletten | January 14, 2011 9:41 AM    Report this comment

I think this ties in nicely with "the bottom line" from last week. This would be yet another added cost to the price tag of Aviation. If you insist on raising costs of admission then you can't very well sympathies with students complaining over cost.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 14, 2011 10:27 AM    Report this comment

>> no matter how you slice the numbers, the fact remains the societal cost for medical care for the relatively small number of un- or under-insured riders is a poor excuse for government intrusion on individual rights and responsibilities, especially when compared to the societal costs for the totality of ALL of America's bad habits<<

There's the problem, Mark. The way you slice is, in your view, the only way to slice it. Others view it differently, which is why we try to compromise on these things. On the motorcycle issue I cited, the trend is in the wrong direction. Total injuries and fatalities are up, fatals per rate are up (in Florida, anyway) so there is a cost. Here's a quote from Journal of the American Medical Association before California's helmet law:

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 14, 2011 12:42 PM    Report this comment

"Fifty-one serial admissions to the orthopedic services at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, Sacramento, for motorcycle accident trauma with open fractures were reviewed. Fifty-five percent of those tested were alcohol intoxicated at the time of admission. Seventy-five percent carried no insurance of any kind, and for the total group, 72% of the cost of acute hospitalization ($17,704 per patient) was paid by the state of California, with an additional 10% paid by other tax-based sources. Care of motorcycle trauma consumes a substantial portion of public health care funds in California. This could be reduced by legislative action concerning helmet use, licensing, and enforcement of compulsory insurance."

Still think there is no societal cost? The anti-intrusion crowd is big on taking personal responsibility. Me too. Yet in opposing a simple regulation to require a helmet on the grounds of precious freedom lost, the same people are perfectly happy to have public funds pay for medical care for riders who did not assume the personal responsibility of (a) insuring themselves and (b) protecting themselves.

As I said, everyone places the needle in a different place. You'll never be convinced because of your ideological view on it. I don't care about the damn principle so much as I just don't want the state paying to care for these clowns just so they can have wind in their hair.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 14, 2011 12:50 PM    Report this comment

"so much as I just don't want the state paying to care for these clowns"

Paul, to put it into perspective, the State is paying for 20+ million illegals from birth to death right now. How many UNINSURED MC accidents are there?

Uninsured MC accidents (like Aviation accidents) are a rarity. It's OK to be "ideological" on such small and insignificant matters.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 14, 2011 1:43 PM    Report this comment

Paul, on second read, how "effective" would a mandatory helmet law be if mandatory licenses and mandatory insurance laws are being ignored? Since such a mandatory law only applies to roadways, how effective would it be in preventing off-road MC medical costs? Just curious.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 14, 2011 3:09 PM    Report this comment

By now anyone smart enough to fly an airplane realizes that a shoulder harness might add to their safety. So I think everyone that flys an airplane has made the assessment. Add to that that all airplanes probably can not be retrofitted, what are you going to do with them? Zero deaths in any activity is not possible. The rules fit the technology of the time for the most part. If someone really wants harnesses they will find a way. Let the rest of the people alone.

Posted by: John Howe | January 14, 2011 3:44 PM    Report this comment

I'm with Paul. I resent having to pay for irresponsible behavior in higher taxes and insurance premiums. My old Comanche was retrofitted with shoulder harnesses long ago.

I'm also concerned about uninformed passengers. How many passengers in aircraft without shoulder harnesses realize the risk they are taking? How many pilots ask those passengers, "See that metal panel with all the sharp points on it? If we have an accident, your face will be smeared all over that. Still want to fly?"

Most older aircraft have STCs for shoulder belts. There could be an exemption for planes that cannot be retrofitted for good engineering reasons. There won't be many.

Posted by: Carl Hensler | January 14, 2011 4:49 PM    Report this comment

I really wish the term "air bag" had never been applied to these inflatable devices. The term implies a benign compressed air inflated pillow. It is not. The device's inflation system reacts sodium azide (NaN3) with Potassium Nitrate (KNO3). When activated by the crash sensor the chemical reaction takes place in 1/25 second and produces hot Nitrogen gas. In other words it is a pyrotechnic device, or in plain English, an explosive.

In addition, it is a one use device, as soon as it is inflated, the holes in the bag allow it to deflate. This is OK in a car where there is usually only one big collision. But an aircraft, especially a light aircraft, landing off airport into rocks, trees ditches etc. can have multiple impacts. The "air bag" will probably have deflated by the time of the final impact. I don't want explosives in my cockpit, and I don't want a device that can't wait around for the final big impact. I'll take shoulder harnesses any day. And I agree with other posters why transport category aircraft aren't being scrutinized for either shoulder harnesses, or (God forbid) "air bags" for the passengers.

Posted by: T S EDWARDS | January 14, 2011 5:08 PM    Report this comment

Please note the posts above by Richard Heitzman. The technology that has been developed for GA airbags is not the same as that used in cars.

Posted by: Mary Grady | January 14, 2011 7:47 PM    Report this comment

>>how "effective" would a mandatory helmet law be if mandatory licenses and mandatory insurance laws are being ignored?<<

Best data on this comes from the Hurt report, a statistically large review of motorcycle accidents done some years ago. The helmet portion of the findings has been confirmed by a studies since, although others have challenged this data.

Principle findings:

Helmets are the single critical factor in prevention of head injury. Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injuries at all levels of accident severity.

The California experience is illuminating. The helmet law went into effect in 1992. The state had an immediate drop in hospitalization due to injuries, from 4696 in 1991 to 3057 in 1993. There were probably other factors, but helmets were viewed as the big one. Hospitalization for head injuries dropped from 230/100,000 registrations to 119/100,000. Overall, total medical costs for motorcycle accidents dropped $35 million for the first year. So even with the insurance and licensing ignored--which it sometimes is--there's a collective benefit. Fewer injuries equals lower bills no matter who is paying.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 15, 2011 6:02 AM    Report this comment

I recognize that not everyone agrees that the the injury and death avoidance, but to me, the data is compelling. I hardly think it's onerous to put on a helmet, given the benefits.

Here are links:

UCSF study:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980919115635.htm

Hurt report summary:

http://www.webbikeworld.com/Motorcycle-Safety/Hurt-study-summary.htm

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 15, 2011 6:03 AM    Report this comment

For what it's worth, I don't think the airplane airbag argument meets the equivalent test. Yes they work. Yes, they're a good thing to have. But the numbers of accidents are small and the cost to society is probably immeasurably small. So I don't accept the argument that they should be required.

What I reject is auto reversion to the argument that regulations have no role in such things merely on principle, irrespective of what the data tells us. To me, it should be case by case.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | January 15, 2011 6:10 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps it would be worthwhile to offer an insurance discount to aircraft owners to equip with shoulder harnesses. It would seem the insurance companies have the most to benefit from on a purely financial basis. That being said, I would assume one gets much more safety per dollar spent to go get an instrument rating - which you do get a deep discount for when shopping for insurance.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 15, 2011 9:09 AM    Report this comment

Maybe all GA pilots need mandatory parachutes, helmets and airbags to protect society from possible medical costs? My solution to the entire question is that in 40 years of flying that I DON'T CRASH. That seems to make everyone happy.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | January 15, 2011 9:56 PM    Report this comment

On the matter of air bags being required in all airplanes: The problem with demanding more and more safety features is, every time the great white father in Washington, D.C. comes up with another damand, aircraft of a given gross weight become less capable in terms of fuel+payload (useful load) capability. Years ago, the Cessna 182 was loved and respected as just about the best in its particular category (four place piston single with fixed landing gear) for its ability to carry four people plus enough fuel to go wherever one wanted to go (within reason). Today's Cessna 182 is less capable in this regard, owing to government demands for more crashworthy seats. If you add mandatory air bags and then, mandatory recovery parachutes too, you're going to end up having to purchase an ever bigger plane to get the same payload plus range capability. And remember, aviation is under pressure regarding fuel (has everybody here been following the biofuels thread?).

So we need to ask: Do you really want YOUR airplane to be burdened with more and more safety features and requirements, and possibly more draconian fuel economy demands too, just to satisfy someone else's ego and power trip?

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | January 24, 2011 7:29 AM    Report this comment

It is a fascinating story, well done for raising this as it is all too often forgotten. Thanks. canvas art

Posted by: arthur tory | March 7, 2011 7:13 AM    Report this comment

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