NTSB Asks FAA To Require CO Detectors For GA Aircraft
Carbon monoxide is an insidious and deadly compound that disables and kills hundreds of people each year – mostly from poorly vented space heaters or home furnaces. Modern automobiles have much lower CO emissions due to their catalytic converters than our old air-cooled airplane engines. An aircraft engine can easily produce fatal levels of CO, especially if the mixture is set to run rich. While it is easy to blame exhaust leaks on poor annual inspection practices, a system can develop a leak in an exhaust gasket or a pipe can crack a week after the annual that might not see the light of day for another 51 weeks. The NTSB recommending that CO detectors should be in all piston aircraft is a reasonable request considering the potential consequences of exposure. The problem comes in how the FAA chooses to proceed. Yes, if they go the TSO route for an installed detector it will be expensive. There are already several available in the range of $500-800 dollars, plus installation. If they choose to accept a portable unit that the pilot can carry, good ones range from $100-300 dollars. And, yes, Aviation Consumer did a review of available detectors several years ago, but it probably needs to be updated by now.
It might also depend on which standard the FAA uses as the criteria for what is “acceptable”. There are three main governing bodies that regulate CO exposure levels – OSHA, NIOSH (OSHA’s parent agency) and ACGIH (the national body of Certified Industrial Hygienists). Each one has a level they consider acceptable for chronic eight hour exposure. They are as follows:
ACGIH – 25 ppm for 8 hours, 400 ppm 15 minute exposure.
NIOSH – 35 ppm 8 hr, 200 ppm short term exposure ceiling.
OSHA – 50 ppm 8 hr, 200 ppm ST Ceiling.
However, one has to recognize that all these are measured at sea level. At 10,000 feet, the lower level of available oxygen in the air could make those levels unsafe for long-term exposure. As with blood alcohol levels at altitude, CO in the blood could have increased effects on judgement and motor skills. If the FAA simply chooses to consider a detector that has either OSHA or NIOSH certification, then the portable units readily available from Sporty’s or other aviation vendors would do just fine. As far as I know, even the permanently installed units on the market still use either the OSHA or NIOS standards, so I doubt that the FAA would want to choose a different standard. In any case, if you choose to carry a portable detector, be aware that any level above about 10 ppm should be immediately investigated unless it is a transient level that lasts just a few minutes. For example, in my Cardinal RG, I often get a spike in CO when the gear is extended on approach, but usually disappears in a couple minutes. And finally, don’t bother with the passive “spot” detector badges. They all have a short shelf life and, being passive, don’t alert you to short term high levels of exposure that could be life threatening. Sorry to be so long-winded.
After hearing about an almost accident in a brand-new model Cessna (from when I used to work for Cessna), I installed a solid state CO detector in my Glasair. (You need to check them every year – else you don’t know if the sensor is still reacting to CO.)
In the case of the almost accident, the only thing that saved four employees was that the flying pilot was a new pilot (or possible still a Student Pilot) who became airsick easily. As a result, he had the overhead wing root vent pulled all the way out, pointing directly at him, even tho it was freezing cold outside. The 3 paxes all fell sound asleep.
Maintenance called the next day to show everyone a large gray streak running from an exhaust slip joint into the cabin heat shroud. On a brand-new plane, with only ferry time from KS to NY on it.
Ever since that visual, I have a Rule: At least one vent stays open in flight, no matter how cold it is inside.
Era Piloto de Glasair
I was amused to note that the recommendation excluded open-cockpit airplanes. Contrary to belief, it *is* possible to get CO poisoning in an open cockpit plane…the cockpit area is low pressure. Have a friend who got a bad case in a Starduster. I carry a portable unit in my Fly Baby, and have measured transients of 30 ppm (new exhaust system since). Actually got CO poisoning once (as a pax in a Mooney) so I’m a bit more cautious than some. Passed out (on the ground) after we landed.
Electrified: Flying An Electric Xenos
I’m a glider CFI–as well as airplanes. I’ve flown an electric self-launch glider. With the retractable “engine” it has respectable performance–in the neighborhood of 40:1 if I recall correctly.
The person that gave me the checkout remarked “with an electric aircraft, endurance is short. Think of it this way–You have about 9,000 feet of climb in the battery–keep track of how many feet you’ve climbed to see how much you’ve used and how much you have left–and don’t forget to leave a little to land with, as it takes a little time and drag to extend the motor–unless you commit to a glider landing.”
All in all, it was fun–I liked the ability to soar without having to arrange for a tow plane–a perfect use for electric power self-launch. Cross-country isn’t really viable, even in something as aerodynamically clean as this aircraft. “In between” soaring and cross country is “no-man’s land”–cheap and fun to fly, but don’t expect to knock out a bunch of touch and goes, or even weekend flight breakfasts. You have to ask yourself “HOW am I going to use this? Will I be satisfied with flying in the local area at slow speed, and very few touch & goes?” While I’d buy an electric motor glider, I don’t think it fits the average “weekend flier” mission well–I’d rather have the motorized version.
Poll: How Can The Accident Rate Be Driven Down?
- Practice flying near the edges of the performance envelope so when the $h1t hits the fan you have more options in your stick and rudder toolbox. Most Part 91 pilots spend their time flying a thin slice of the center of the envelope. That said – most Part 121 airline training seems to center around keeping their Part 121 planes in that center slice and recognizing when deviating from it and returning to the center. ACS replacing PTS seems to be trying to move the needle towards Part 121 practices. But we are still flying CAR3 planes. Where to throw the dart? Me – if I have nowhere to go – I’ll keep practicing around the edges of the envelope to try and improve my chances while under no illusions that I have complete control of the environment or outcome. Just a possibility that I can bend it in my favor – a bit.
- A combination of initial and recurrent training, equipment and culture.
- Like just about everything else, individual responsibility and having the sense to review the basics voluntarily and often. Don’t overestimate your capabilities and respect the weather and basic physics. What goes up will come down. How that happens is up to the person in charge of the airplane. Recurrent training may only go so far, but it can’t fill in the gaps for poor attitudes and decision making. So in other words, highly unlikely for much change in the accident rate.
- Required additional recurrent training for who flies under 75 hours per year.
- By flying more! In the FBO business for 50 years, I see far too many “Sunday pilots” in the pilot lounge. I ask them “Why aren’t you flying?” The answer “It’s too windy”—”It’s too cloudy”—I don’t have any place to go”—etc. etc. etc. There’s ALWAYS an excuse not to fly—If you don’t REALLY want to! Be proficient—YOU’LL ENJOY FLYING MORE—by FLYING MORE!
- It’s clear to me that we don’t understand WHY we keep having these accidents. We need to figure out what the leading indicators are of pilots/aircraft that have problems rather than just looking at the ‘day of’. A full “NTSB go-team” type approach to a few random samples of common accidents would go a long way.
- Greater situational awareness, contingency preparedness and realistic personal minimums.
- Fewer gadgets on the instrument panel, more focus on the big killers like loss of control, less irresponsible reporting from AVweb about 1-in-a-million midairs which brings about costly diminishing-return regulation and distracts attention away from the real killers.
- Advances in safety-related technologies should have been a choice. I believe we’ve pretty much plateaued with respect to education, training and the like. And certainly not enforcement.
- Pilots taking more responsibility.
- I think reading about accidents in these aviation publications – what happened – how to prevent it – is the best way to remind pilots to be careful out there. So just keep plugging away!
- We all know accidents are no good. We teach the mistakes, but most don’t seem to realize they’re in the process of making those mistakes until it’s too late.
- Increase flight time minimum for flight reviews and use realistic FBS/risk management as basis for the syllabus. Stress evaluation by Cfi of pilot’s judgment/attitude as revealed during both the ground and flight portions of the flight review, including CFI briefing pilot on CFI’s evaluation of pilot’s judgment/attitude as revealed during the flight review.
- Require sailplane training first, screen out poor decision makers.
- Check the difference between airline and GA accident rates, then check the difference between corp. and general. What is the big difference? TRAINIING.
- Focused education on current biggest causes of accidents.
- Scenario-based simulator training… make the critical mistake on purpose, then repeat with a better thought-out response.
- Improved maintenance.
- Personal minimums training, wx briefing training coupled into recurrent training.
- Building safer habits, like we did when we developed checklists.
- You can’t fix stupid pilot tricks.
- Accident rates are low in scheduled passenger service due to the structure and redundancy. Lower cost and higher freedom come with more risk.
- Lower the cost/entry requirements of modern equipment that promotes safety and aircraft reliability.
- Integrate airline quality training and philosophy into General Aviation. Encourage retired airline pilots with General Aviation experience to enter the primary flight training business by incentives and promotions.
- Reduction in GA costs that allow for more proficiency/practice.
- Better engine designs and maintenance.
- Take a look at the regulatory environment to see if prices can be driven down. Lower prices will mean more seat time and training time.
- Require 50 hours a year or recurrent training.
- Duh. NEW TECHNOLOGY. Like Garmin Autoland. And flight envelope protection tools like ONSPEED.
- Better quality recurrent training.
- More and better upset recovery training.
- Forced ground-based accident analysis training as part of a BFR.
- Artificial Intelligence that makes every go/no go decision. We aren’t there yet, but we’re rapidly getting there.
- Stop flying altogether. After a serious rafting accident years ago I quit rafting and haven’t had another rafting incident or accident.
- Encourage more frequent flying, more hours.
- Better preflight planning.
- Make recurrent training cheaper, more convenient, and even more central to GA culture.
- Universal transponders.
- Keep airplanes out of the hands of the same idiots who drive on the freeways like they’re in a NASCAR race!
- Revise medical standards, currently it punishes those who seek mental health.
- Eliminate human pilots.
- More stringent currency requirements.
- Teach better skills through glider training.
- Better risk management.
- Simpler avionics, easier avionics, KISS.
- On board AI.
- We are doing good. Planes crash sometimes, it’s okay.
- Recurrent training, but not mandated. You can’t mandate attitude.
- Determining the totality of the circumstances of the accident, currently not done by any gov’t agency or letter group.
- More initial training on whatever the most common crash scenario is, and how to avoid it. Stall/spin? Then more training in avoiding them, etc.
- Technology improvements.
- Bring AQP to GA.
- Constant, repetitive messaging about safety culture.
- We need a different approach to reduce the accident rate.
- Better situational awareness.
- Rapid and frequent updates to training material as necessary.
- New technologies and processes that regiment flying more like driving on highways.
- Do away with scenario-based training. It is NOT working, is it?
- Accident prevention technology in the cockpit like AOA and weather information.
- TRAINING! See what CAPS did.
- Common sense.
- Ban flying.
- Alter human nature!