Poll: Should the NTSB Make More Safety Recommendations for GA?

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  1. As an airport manager, I’ve watched both FAA and NTSB conduct accident investigations. I’m no fan of the FAA, but they ARE far better at GA accidents than the NTSB. We had a young Private Pilot land here at 2 a.m. after a 4 hour flight across the Dakotas in a Skyhawk. Almost out of fuel, he ran off the runway. The NTSB “investigator”–a Private Pilot, laid the blame on “fuel imbalance.” Yes, there WAS a fuel imbalance–one tank had 4 gallons in it, and the other one was empty–hardly an issue.

    A hospital helicopter l(Bell 222 with fixed skids instead of wheels)) anded here to pick up a patient. Pilot had been in only 2 hours before. A number of us watched the approach (two of us are also helicopter pilots). We saw a cloud of black smoke from one of the engines–then a steep drop–then the blades cone–an autorotation. He attempted a run-on landing, but hooked a skid on the edge of the pavement. The helicopter rolled over, but no injuries.

    I passed out a tablet to each of the 6 witnesses and asked them to go off by themselves and record what they saw. The pilot phoned his company–who notified the NTSB. NTSB said “don’t allow ANYONE near the wreckage–INCLUDING THE FAA.” When the FAA showed up, I told them about the NTSB request, and they went home. I did have the witness sheets–all filled out by aviation professionals. The NTSB agent said “You know what I don’t like about this? They all have the same account.”

    Within half an hour–he came back with “I’ve solved the issue. There were two flight attendants on board (one was a trainee). There is also an entertainment system on board. Note that it was selected on the audio panel. I think that the pilot was out to impress the women, listening to the entertainment system and ditty-bopping–and maybe doing a steep approach–lost altitude awareness, and hit hard.”

    I countered with “Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but ALL of the audio panel switches were selected. Do you REALLY THINK that the pilot was listening to BOTH Comm radios, BOTH Nav radios, the ADF, the DME, the company HF radio, AND the entertainment system?” And there is one other problem with your theory–THIS IS A HELICOPTER, AND HE WAS FLYING FROM THE RIGHT SEAT!”

    Attempting to extricate himself from his aviation faux pas, he opined “I don’t see any evidence of an engine failure. I pointed to the scorched paint aft of the right engine.

    He asked “how did this aft fuselage get 100′ and 90 degrees to the rest of the wreckage?” I pointed to the tail rotor–asking which way the thrust was pushing the tail. The blades severed the tail–and looking at the gouges in the asphalt, they were on a uniform length–exactly the same distance apart as the span of the tail rotor.

    I received a nice letter from the Clinic AND one from the pilot–“I’m SO GLAD that there were helicopter pilots watching the accident!”

    It’s bad enough that we have untrained personnel in these positions of authority–making judgements that may impact a pilot’s job or insurance coverage. It’s even worse that WE PAY THEM!

  2. Annex 13 to the Chicago convention says that the investigator should issue safety recommendations IF APPROPRIATE. Living in a country with a small fleet, I’ve seen quite a few knee jerk reaction recommendations that nobody cared to question.
    After a crosswind related incident in which the nose gear collapsed in soft soil, the investigator recommended and the authority put in force a requirement for one time nose gear inspection on ALL GA aircraft. Being owner of two tail wheel aircraft I received two letters to inspect my nose wheels and report findings.
    Another not so funny example was after a wing separation of an experimental that have identical certified version. The authority grounded ALL experimentals asking owners to do “spar inspection per maintenance manual” and didn’t bother to address the certified version in any way.

  3. several years ago we had a fatality in a private glider near a private strip that our club operates. One of our members, who is a paramedic and was the towpilot on the flight, was first on the scene and confirmed that the pilot was dead.

    We called the NTSB. 2 days later I got a phone call from someone who identified himself as the NTSB investigator on the case, and told me to make sure that no witnesses left the area, and to make sure that _no one touched the throttles_ (note the plural). Aside from the fact that we’d waited several hours with no returned phone calls after our first contact, the last time I looked, a Libelle doesn’t have any engine, let alone multiple engines.