The general aviation accident rate remains stubbornly high despite numerous attempts to reduce it by the FAA, the NTSB, and various pilot and maintenance organizations. Among the problems found by the NTSB that contribute to GA accidents are maintenance mistakes to critical systems that subsequently fail in flight.
Up until recently, recommendations were generally limited to complying with the federal aviation regulations, manufacturer’s recommendations, and maintenance best practices. But with the GA accident rate remaining at approximately 1,500 accidents per year with almost 500 annual fatalities, it was clear that more needed to be done.
I have been pleased to see that one of the NTSB’s recommendations to lower the GA accident rate is for maintenance technicians to have “a qualified person, other than the person who performed the maintenance, inspect the safety and security of critical items that received maintenance.” For someone who spent 30 plus years as an airline mechanic used to the system of required inspection items — those items deemed so critical to safety of flight that a separately qualified inspector needed to sign off on them — this recommendation is a long time coming. I know that as an RII-qualified inspector for a number of airlines, the requirement resulted in numerous occasions where mistakes were caught by virtue of having that second set of eyes. For a while, the air carrier industry was tracking the number of so-called re-works and they were alarmingly high.
It would not be surprising to find a high rate of re-works, if GA had a similar RII system and began tracking these numbers. Of course, air carriers are required by regulation to have RIIs, while GA is not. However, air carriers have learned the importance of those second sets of eyes and frequently add RIIs to their maintenance programs even when not required by the aircraft manufacturer or the FAA. So voluntary adoption of such a system by individual mechanics or FBOs could be a major step forward in aviation safety and preventing GA accidents caused by maintenance errors.
Aside from the emotional toll of being responsible for an aircraft accident, especially if it results in injury and death, there are clearly financial penalties from accidents. Even if insurance covers any ultimate liability, there are so many uninsured costs — especially time away from work answering to NTSB investigators and FAA inspectors, not to mention media attention and any lawsuits that may result.
Many of you are probably thinking that it’s tough to find a second set of eyes when you work at a small company or for yourself. I know. I ran my own FBO at Logan International Airport for more than 12 years. Even with a dozen mechanics it would have been difficult to schedule a second set of eyes. But in retrospect there are a number of situations which, while not resulting in an accident, did result in problems that might well have been caught earlier by a second set of eyes.
John Goglia has 40+ years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.