March 20, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Stats: Older Pilots Crash More
Statistics compiled by The Associated Press suggest that the older you are, the harder you'll fall. The news gathering organization pored over FAA and NTSB records and determined that pilots older than 50 have a significantly greater chance of crashing than younger pilots. The stats perhaps take on even greater significance considering the fact that the average age of pilots is now 47. The AP report also found that the accident rate went up with age, and that those in their 60s were at a roughly proportional greater risk of crashing. Older pilots were also in more fatal accidents. The AP undertook the research after what it described as "a rash of plane crashes involving older pilots in Southern California." Just how many crashes constitute "a rash," the news service didn't say. However, several of the accidents attracted significant media coverage, particularly one on July 7, 2004, in which a Harmon Rocket plunged through the roof of a house in Seal Beach, Calif., with 62-year-old Ross Anderson, an ex-Navy pilot, in the cockpit. Friends insist Anderson must have been incapacitated before the crash. "The way the accident happened, there was no way he was at the controls," David Hallmark told the AP. "There's no way with his experience that he would've done what the airplane was doing." Occupants of the house escaped serious injury but the house was destroyed and legal wrangling has prevented reconstruction.
According to the AP's research, pilots older than 50 were involved in 55.8 percent of accidents over a five-year period even though they constitute only 36.8 percent of certificated pilots. And, apparently, the older a pilot gets, the greater the risk. Pilots between the ages of 50 and 59 had 26.4 percent of accidents, marginally higher than their percentage of the pilot population, which is about 22.1 percent, but those 60 and older had 23.6 percent of accidents even though they make up only 14.7 percent of certificated pilots. The research also determined that those under 50 consistently had proportionately fewer accidents throughout the five-year sample period. To its credit, the AP asked experts if its findings had any sort of real-world merit. According to the experts they consulted, the methodology was "simple but sound." However, it should be pointed out that any number of factors, including pilot experience (complacency?), history (old, bold pilots?) and aircraft type (higher income equals higher performance, equals higher impact speed?) were not factored into the research and may have influenced the results.
Accidents Up In 2005
The report pays more than passing attention to the recently-introduced sport pilot certificate, noting it allows pilots of "low and slow" light sport aircraft (LSA) to skip the biannual trip to an aviation medical examiner and use a driver's license as proof of medical fitness. The report says the new certificate "made it easier for graying pilots to obtain and keep licenses to fly certain smaller planes." However, AOPA President Phil Boyer pointed out that all pilots, regardless of age or certificate level, are responsible for self-certifying their medical fitness before every flight. The report noted that a valid medical may not always be proof of flight fitness and cited reports of pilots and doctors who had falsified medical records. Meanwhile, the FAA's top doctor says medical incapacity continues to be a minor factor in accidents. Federal Air Surgeon Dr. Jon Jordan did, however, suggest that we might be a little more error-prone and slower to react as we age. "We don't see too many aviation accidents that are related to a medical cause. The increase in accidents (with age) may be due really to cognitive factors," Dr. Jordan told the AP. AOPA's Boyer agreed. "There has been no history that having that medical exam creates a safer environment," said Boyer.
Accident statistics in 2005 bucked a hopeful trend that developed over the past few years but there are still some bright spots in the totals. In its preliminary report for 2005, the NTSB reported last week that the total number of aircraft accidents went up in 2005 over the previous year but the number of fatalities was significantly less. "The increase in accidents is disappointing," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker, "but the decrease in total fatalities is a hopeful sign. Overall, it is clear that we need to maintain a strong focus on safety in all segments of the aviation community." Fatalities dropped from 636 to 600. There were only three fatal airline accidents and one didn't even involve a flight operation. Last June the driver of a mobile baggage conveyor died when the vehicle collided with an Embraer 170 at Washington Reagan National Airport. In December, a six-year-old boy was killed when the car in which he was riding was crushed by a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that overran a runway at Midway Airport and 20 people died when a Chalk's Ocean Airways turbine-powered Grumman Goose broke up off the coast of Miami.
AOPA's Air Safety Foundation (ASF) does an exhaustive assessment of aircraft accidents each year called the Nall Report but it's a year behind. That's because it tries to include as many NTSB final reports as possible and it usually takes the NTSB six months to a year to complete a file. For 2004, 82 percent of the reports used in the Nall stats were from final reports and the ASF says that's enough to give an accurate picture of what it was like in 2004. It's difficult to compare the two sources, however, because the ASF apparently has different criteria for what constitutes a GA accident. It gave the total number of GA accidents in 2004 as 1413 with 290 of them fatal. "Maneuvering" continues to be the phase of flight responsible for the most fatal accidents, while landing resulted in the most non-fatal accidents. There were a total of 45 weather-related fatal accidents in 2004, 10 of them involving thunderstorms. Most weather-related accidents involving fixed-gear piston singles and were the result of VFR flights ending up in IMC.
The Catch-22 that often afflicts capital-intensive businesses like aircraft manufacturers has apparently affected production at Tiger Aircraft. The Martinsburg Journal reported last week that the company needs more money from its investors to ramp up production and meet demand for the sporty touring aircraft first made by Grumman in the 1970s. The West Virginia plant has been making airplanes since 2002 but in December of 2005 it laid off eight of 28 employees despite a fat order book. "Right now I have the biggest backlog (of customers) in the company's history," President Gene Criss said. But without another cash infusion, Tiger can't boost production to meet the demand. "It takes money to make money," Criss said. He said he expects things to turn around in the next few months. Criss said the company is developing some "new products" and he's hoping to more than double the workforce. He's also adamantly denying rumors the company may close. "I've heard those (rumors) for five years," Criss said. "But it's never happened and there's no plans to."
Transport Canada has announced it intends to carry out a "full review" of air taxi operators in the West Coast province of British Columbia after six accidents killed 14 people in a 13-month span. Merlin Preuss, director general for civil aviation, told the Vancouver Sun that he's already ordered his staff to look into the string of accidents, which some in the industry say may just be an anomaly. "When you get that number, we start asking ourselves some questions," Preuss said. "We're sitting here fat, dumb and happy, if you like and then all of a sudden we get this spate of stuff going on on the Pacific Coast. We have no conclusions yet." B.C.'s coast is bordered by rugged mountains with numerous inlets and islands, and weather can be horrific, but Preuss indicated that cultural factors within the industry will also be probed. He told The Sun that air taxi operations often employ pilots "fresh out of training school." There have been allegations in recent months that the young pilots, often in their early 20s, are pressured to fly overtime and to push the weather as they build hours for airline careers. Preuss said a similar review was done 10 years ago and fatal accidents dropped 50 percent after the release of its 71 non-binding recommendations. He wants to know if operators have remained as focused on safety as they appeared to be after the last review. "You can start backsliding," he noted.
An Airworthiness Directive (AD) affecting operations in ice by Cessna Caravan operators is getting a cold reception from some. An industry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AVweb Friday that a section of the AD requiring pilots to exit icing conditions if they observe a build-up of greater than a quarter of an inch on the wing strut will be challenged by operators. "That seems to be very conservative," the source said. He noted that a quarter of an inch of ice on a strut wouldn't necessarily translate to a similar amount on lifting surfaces on the plane, which has pneumatic boots and is certified for flight into known icing. The FAA issued its latest AD on Caravan icing last Thursday, a month after the NTSB issued safety recommendations on the subject. The AD, which takes effect Friday, requires pilots to get out of icing conditions considered to be anything greater than "light." The FAA says icing exceeds the "light" definition if there's a quarter-inch buildup on the strut, if the aircraft's speed drops by 20 knots at constant power in level flight, if engine power required to maintain speed increases by more than 400 ft. lbs. or if the plane is unable to maintain 120 knots in level flight. Pilots must maintain a minimum speed of 120 knots (flaps up) in icing conditions. All the limitations must be put in the pilot operating handbook and placarded on the instrument panel.
It's a general rule that if there are losers there must be winners and Cambridge-Dorchester County Airport in Maryland is planning to take full advantage of the challenges faced by its neighbors. The airport is just outside the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and traffic counts have been up considerably since the imposition of the complication-inducing restrictions at other airports. Operations increased by about 15 percent last year, largely due to an influx of recreational pilots skirting the zone. Now the local county council is hoping to attract charter operations by lengthening the runway. The 4,500-foot runway will be lengthened by 900 feet to accommodate charter operators. The council approved spending $485,000 to acquire a five-acre property and move the owners to another home. The FAA is also helping out with the expansion costs.
EAA says the FAA has backed off on its interpretation of an airspace designation that would have closed an aerobatic area near Minneapolis. In fact, as a private individual, Robert Hucker, of Lakeville, Minn., had better luck convincing the agency of the error of its ways than EAA, whose similar arguments were rejected by the FAA seven years ago. FAA practice had been to ban aerobatics anywhere "within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E designated for an airport." It got Hucker's attention because the agency recently expanded Class B airspace around Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from 20 nm to 30 nm, encompassing a well-used aerobatic area 25 nm southwest of MSP. But Hucker successfully argued that because the aerobatic areas was under the floor elevation of the Class B, the ban shouldn't apply because the airspace doesn't actually contact the "surface" of the earth. "The (1999 FAA) explanation to EAA's petition didn't seem right to me," Hucker said. "Plus use of the term, 'surface area,' was inconsistent, so I decided to put together some facts and file my own petition." Maybe it was the way he explained it but this time the FAA went for it. "Upon review, we conclude that the EAA was indeed correct in its understanding of 'surface areas,'" FAA lawyer Rebecca MacPherson wrote to Hucker. "In responding to your inquiry, we concluded that our 1999 interpretation was inconsistent with the term 'surface area' as used by Air Traffic Organization (ATO) airspace planners to describe only airspace that touches the surface of the earth."
News in Brief
While the airlines have seen their share of tumult in recent years, corporate and business aviation has seen steady growth. Now, Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA) is hoping to steer more young pilots and support personnel in their direction through sponsorship of several scholarships. The scholarships are open to men and women. "Applicants should be actively working toward their goal and show financial need," says a news release issued by the group. The scholarships will be awarded at the National Business Aviation Association's convention in Orlando next October. Deadline for applications is June 30. Aircraft Technical Publishers (ATP) and King's School of Aeronautics are sponsoring a scholarship package to an A&P student pursuing a career in corporate or business aviation worth $1,357, WCA is teaming up with Cessna for a commercial pilot scholarship worth $1,300 and WCA is offering $1,000 to someone to further their studies in any aspect of corporate flying.
A story in the March 16 edition concerning John Cox's report on the dangers posed by electrical fires on aircraft may have left the incorrect impression with readers that the report indicates a greater risk associated with modern fly-by-wire aircraft. The report did not compare fly-by-wire and conventional aircraft in-flight fire risk, Cox told AVweb.
Steve Fossett says he broke Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager's record for the greatest distance flown taking and landing off in the same spot on Friday. Fossett landed GlobalFlyer back at Salina, Kan., after a 74-hour spin around the world that he says covered more than 25,000 miles and outdistanced the old record by about 400 miles...
A British pilot is also seeking a circumnavigation record by flying an RV-6 around the world in 23 days. Manuel Queiroz is also raising funds for cancer research and was last reported waiting out weather in Hawaii...
British Concorde enthusiasts are hoping to revive interest in their mission to restore one of the airliners to flight after Britons voted the supersonic plane as the country's greatest design icon in a nationwide contest.
Your Favorite FBOs
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Marc Meuller wrote in to say, "Shelbyville is run by a pilot who knows how to make pilots feel welcome. The counter is manned by aviation students who are enthusiastic about people and flying. Fuel prices are the lowest in the area. Tie down is free." ... And "pilot supplies are available."
Keep those nominations coming. AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBO's in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
Nominate Your Favorite FBOKeep those nominations coming. AVweb is actively seeking the best FBO's in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
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Motor Head #12: Troubleshooting 101 -- Never Give Up, Never Surrender
It takes patience and tenacity to build an airplane. And a bit of luck and a lot of skill (and help) to do it in less than three weeks. But if you try to rush the troubleshooting when finishing, you may take longer and cost more, as AVweb's Marc Cook explains in this month's Motor Head column.
Probable Cause #2: Rusty Skills
The FAA mandates a minimum amount of flight time in various conditions to remain "current," but good pilots know those minimums are just that: the minimum. In this week's Probable Cause column we look at an accident where the pilot was both inexperienced and not current. This report first appeared in AVweb's sister publication, Aviation Safety.
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