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Volume 24, Number 47b
November 22, 2017
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NTSB: GA Safety Best In 50 Years
Mary Grady

The accident rate in general aviation dropped below 1 fatal accident per 100,000 flight hours in 2016, for the first time in 50 years, the NTSB reported on Tuesday. Overall, aviation deaths decreased slightly, from 416 in 2015 to 412 in 2016. Nearly 94 percent of those fatalities, a total of 379, occurred in general aviation accidents. Twenty-five people died in accidents in commuter and on-demand aircraft, including charter, air taxi, air tours, and medical services, operating under Part 135. The GA decrease occurred while other forms of transport — cars, trains, and boats — all showed increases.

Overall, general aviation accidents totaled 1,266 in 2016, the NTSB says, and 213 of those accidents resulted in fatalities. Based on an estimated 21.3 million flight hours, the preliminary fatal accident rate for GA in 2016 is 0.989 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The total number of fatalities in GA was up slightly from 2015, according to Bloomberg News, but the lower rate reflects an increase in the number of hours that GA aircraft flew. There have been no fatalities for U.S. airlines since 2009.

JP International - Video Library
Guest Blog: Why Privatizing ATC Would Break The System
James Van Laak

One of the most important conversations going on in aviation today has to do with the proposal to remove the air traffic control organization from the FAA and turn it into a privatized entity. Proponents claim that this would free the function from the bureaucracy and petty budgetary pressures of the FAA and lead to more efficient operations. They also claim that it would result in more rapid modernization of the air traffic control system.

Opponents to the privatization proposal base most of their arguments on three points. First, they point out that air traffic control function is working well today, and that there is no reason to fix something that is not broken. Second, they claim that moving to a privatized system will inevitably lead to a user-fee system dominated by the airlines, which would penalize the general aviation sector. Third, they point out that this entity would have a monopoly control of the air traffic control system with minimal oversight by the government, a recipe for corruption and gross mismanagement.

As a pilot with over 47 years of experience operating under the FAA’s authority and five years as a senior executive at the agency, I have a strong opinion about these issues. In summary, I find the privatization arguments to be weak and driven by political dogma, and the arguments against completely valid.

But beyond my traditional aviation credentials, I am also an expert in the design and operation of complex systems. This leads to a different and, in my view, more important conclusion about the issue based not on whom the controllers work for, but how the system works.

Air transportation as we know it today is a complex system that requires many different elements to work together well, not just ATC. Obviously air traffic control is a critical piece of that system, but it is neither the only one nor even the most important. Other elements are required to ensure that the flying public is safely transported to their destinations. These include:

  • Pilot training, certification, regulation and enforcement
  • Airport design, construction and operation
  • Aircraft design, construction and operation
  • Aircraft maintenance and modification regulation and oversight
  • Avionics and navigation systems design, certification, maintenance and oversight
  • Air traffic procedures, including airspace design and special-use airspace management
  • Weather information dissemination and air traffic avoidance procedures
  • And many more

Our safe and effective air transportation system works as well as it does because all of these elements are predominantly under the control of one agency that can make them work together. Airmen are trained and overseen to make sure that safe operating practices are followed. Flight standards inspectors ensure that the navigational and airport systems comply with established standards. Aircraft are designed and maintained to be safe. Aircraft navigation systems meet the requirements of the air traffic control system so that both know what to expect from each other, across countless combinations of ground, air, airspace and weather conditions.

This integration would not be as effective if the many functions belonged to different organizations even within the government. Pulling a critical piece out of the government to create a new and far more contentious barrier to coordination would be damaging and would certainly result in more near misses and more.

It is true that some countries have implemented a privatized air traffic control function, but their ability to do so benefits from American leadership of the overall aviation system. FAA regulations, standards and processes form the foundation for most of the world and thereby hold the system together.

All pilots know that the FAA has problems in the way it does its job, so it is fair to ask how many of these might honestly be made better by moving air traffic to a privatized organization. By my count, damn few. If perchance some improvement was found in one or two functions, it would be far outweighed by the breakage caused when air traffic was separated from the world air transportation system as a whole.

This leads to the most important conclusion of all: Air traffic control should not be privatized because doing so would gravely weaken the safety and effectiveness of the premier air transportation system on the planet.

James Van Laak is a former Deputy Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA. He served in the U.S. Air Force as a F-106 and A-10 pilot and worked at DARPA and at NASA as a manager on the International Space Station.

Crazy Fun In Waco's Biplane on Floats
Paul Bertorelli

Waco Aircraft has been touring with a YMF-5 biplane on Aerocet floats and is it ever fun to fly. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently took a crack at the airplane with some water landings and airwork. Here's a complete video on the topic.

Homebuilt Safety Record Improves
Geoff Rapoport

For the 2017 fiscal year, there were 27 fatal accidents involving experimental category aircraft, down 18% from the prior year and down 47% over the last four years, says EAA, which is celebrating the trend. “These are historic lows for fatal accidents in amateur-built aircraft and this continuing trend is a credit to everyone who is focusing on safety,” said Sean Elliott, EAA vice president of advocacy and safety. “The overall fatal accident numbers remain much lower than other recreational pursuits, such as paddle sports, skiing and snowboarding, and driving all-terrain vehicles. Statistics even show that being involved in a fatal amateur-built aircraft accident is less likely than being killed in a lightning strike incident.”

The improvement in fatal accident frequency is compounded by the increase in total flight hours by experimental aircraft. The 2017 FAA Aerospace Forecast reports that experimental aircraft flight hours grew 1.4% annually from 2010 to 2016 and are predicted to keep growing more than 2% per year, while flight hours of certified piston singles are predicted to decline by roughly 1.5% per year. EAA credits some of the improvement with regulatory changes permitting safety pilots during initial flight testing of amateur-built aircraft, which were formerly flight tested by their builders, who were rarely qualified for test pilot duties.

NTSB Issues Preliminary Report On Halladay Crash
Geoff Rapoport

The last data point captured by the flight data recorder on Roy Halladay’s Icon A5 before his fatal crash shows the light sport at 200 feet above the water with a speed of 87 knots, says the NTSB. The preliminary report says a witness told investigators that “he saw the airplane perform a climb to between 300 and 500 feet on a southerly heading and then turn and descend on an easterly heading about a 45 nose-down attitude. He then saw the airplane impact the water and nose over.” The NTSB did not say how often the A5’s black box samples speed and altitude data, so it’s unclear from the report how much time may have elapsed between the last data point and impact with the water. As a light sport aircraft, the A5 is required to have a stall speed no higher than 45 knots.

Roy Halladay had been flying as low as 11 feet above ground level and as close as 75 feet to homes in his new Icon A5 before the fatal accident on Nov. 7, says the NTSB report. The 11-foot pass recorded by the A5’s flight data recorder shows Halliday traveling at 92 knots—cruising speed for the Rotax-powered amphibian. The NTSB reports that the safety pin on the airframe parachute was still installed in the activation handle at the time of the crash. Icon checklists call for the pin to be removed prior to flight. Halladay’s logbook included 703.9 hours of total flight experience, including 51.8 hours in the Icon A5, according to the NTSB.

Fly SAM STC Approved
Marines Run Errands In Attack Helicopters
Geoff Rapoport

Days after a Navy E/A-18 crew decided to use government aircraft to draw a contrail phallus in the sky, two Marine Corps crews flew a Bell AH-1W Super Cobra and Bell UH-1Y Venom across town to pick up a cellphone left in a pub, according to the Mount Desert Islander. The local paper reports that a caller phoned the Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor, Maine, on Saturday asking if someone from the restaurant would be willing to ferry a cellphone, left behind at lunch, over to the town baseball field. Server Jess Witherell told the Islander that the caller ID reported that the call came from nearby Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport.

Dishwasher Bryce Lambert drove to the field and handed the cellphone over to one of Super Cobra crew, who gave him a unit patch, then departed. The Islander reports that the crew seemed to be from a Marine Corps helicopter unit stationed in New Jersey. AVweb calls to the Marine Corps press office for a statement went unanswered.

Picture of the Week
There's a purely coincidental taildragger theme to this week's round of really nice photos, with the exception of the Tri-Pacer, should have remained a taildragger, in the editor's opinion. That's a particularly dynamic and beautiful image of the trike version of the Pacer by Dan Gray and earns our honours this week. Nice shot, Dan.

See all submissions

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Aviation Consumer Engine Shop Survey

Overhauling an engine is a big investment, with downtime, reliability, and confidence hanging in the balance. The editors at Aviation Consumer magazine want to know about your engine overhaul experience and the experience you had dealing with the shop. We'd appreciate you taking a couple of minutes to answer these questions. Photo by Graeme J.W. Smith.Take the survey here:

Meet the AVweb Team

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

Tom Bliss

Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Geoff Rapoport

Rick Durden
Kevin Lane-Cummings
Paul Berge
Larry Anglisano

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Karen Lund

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