During the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Safety Summit, held on March 15, general aviation (GA) industry leaders participated both in the opening public session and later in a closed-door breakout session to discuss current challenges and improvements needed to enhance the safety of GA operations.
The public session was opened by Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy. National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO, Ed Bolen, and other industry leaders then participated in a panel discussion, led by former NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt and Acting Administrator Nolen. During this discussion, Bolen emphasized that GA, which is a vital link in our nation's transportation system and economy, is the primary training ground for pilots and technicians. Also, GA is where most safety technologies are first introduced and therefore timeliness and efficiency in the certification process has a direct impact on safety.
In the afternoon closed-door GA breakout session, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) President and CEO, Pete Bunce, and FAA Deputy Executive Director of Accident Investigation and Prevention for Aviation Safety, Warren Randolph, led the discussion which included active participation from numerous government and industry leaders from the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), FAA, Flight School Association of North America (FSANA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), National Air Transportation Association (NATA), National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), NBAA, NTSB and more.
Over the past decade, the GA industry has put a strong emphasis on advancing and improving safety, which given the significant reduction in accident rates has shown to be effective. GA stakeholders outlined ways to continue to build upon this record and provided insights into how the GA community can work with regulators to strengthen the safety of the entire aviation industry. The GA breakout session participants appreciated the opportunity to collaboratively work to identify the opportunities and challenges that must be addressed to bolster the safety of the industry.
During the session, Tim LeBaron, NTSB’s Director of the Office of Aviation Safety discussed the need for better collaboration between FAA, engine manufacturers and NTSB to improve data gathering on loss of engine power investigations with the goal of decreasing the number of undetermined events. He also expressed, that once better data is available, the General Aviation Joint Safety Committee (GAJSC) should revisit loss of engine power data to explore ways to decrease the accident rate.
Richard McSpadden, AOPA Senior Vice President of the Air Safety Institute, emphasized that the GA community has made impressive progress in safety through NTSB and FAA collaboration to speed up accident investigations and importing reports immediately into the GAJSC and USHST for analysis. He discussed the co-dependence of the five key elements of GA safety – Culture, Knowledge, Training, Proficiency and Equipment. He further emphasized the need to evaluate the cost effectiveness structure of the WINGS program and the adverse effects of the post COVID experience and knowledge drain across every aspect of our industry.
Sean Elliott, Vice President of EAA Government Affairs, noted that the significant fatal accident reductions in the Experimental-Amateur Built aviation community over the past 12 years have been accomplished with little to no new regulation and have succeeded due to outreach and policy enhancements done collaboratively with industry through programs such as 2014 Additional Pilot, and 2018 Flight Test Manual initiatives. He additionally emphasized that the industry needs more simplified pathways to incorporate safety enhancing tech in the cockpit.
James Viola, HAI President and CEO, called for the restoration of full funding for the FAA’s successful weather camera program. The program’s preliminary budget has been targeted for cuts. Several other industry representatives echoed the need to continue and expand this critical preflight planning, situational awareness and aeronautical decision-making technology, particularly in areas unable to access traditional weather reporting sources. Viola also called for improved unity and collaboration with advanced air mobility and drone stakeholders and proposed merging the USHST and Drone Safety Team.
ICAS President and CEO, John Cudahy, discussed safety initiatives within the U.S. air show community, including the adaptation of safety management systems (SMS) by the entire air show business, a longstanding collaboration between the FAA and ICAS on a successful pilot evaluation program, and a new data collection/analysis program. Cudahy emphasized that the air show community has demonstrated that SMS can be used successfully in atypical circumstances.
Hank Coates, President and CEO of CAF, spoke about the aftermath of the tragic B-17 and P-63 midair accident and the recent launch of the Association of Professional Warbird Operators. The vision of this organization is to promote professionalism that results in education, standardization and safety methodologies that will foster sustainability, mitigate risk and help the Warbird community avoid unnecessary and irresponsibly formed regulations.
NASAO CEO. Greg Pecoraro, noted the value of technology to supplement operational safety through expansion of the FAA’s weather camera program and implementing the use of remote tower systems. Pecoraro noted that widespread introduction of these technologies would significantly increase awareness of operational conditions at GA airports.
Keith DeBerry, NATA COO, applauded FAA efforts to support development and implementation of SMS for the part 135 community, as well as the agency’s continued focus on runway incursions and efforts to address workforce issues across the entire system. NATA believes with existing SMS programs for the FAA and part 121 operators, the impending implementation of airport SMS, and the proposed SMS rule for parts 135, 91.147, and 21, the NAS will soon reap the benefits of a more comprehensive safety management approach.
GAMA Vice President of Operations, Safety and Security, Jens Hennig, who organized the GA breakout session, highlighted the important role that technology plays in providing improved situational awareness for pilots – including both airborne avionics and ground equipment.
Additionally, attendees emphasized the important role of existing voluntary reporting schemes such as the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) and Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) to help identify system vulnerabilities as well as the industry's adoption of SMS. At the conclusion of the session, leaders re-emphasized to the FAA the tremendous safety benefit of continued deployment of weather cameras and the need to actively strengthen the industry and FAA workforce. The acute shortage of designed pilot examiners (DPE) in many parts of the country and the need for standardization with the DPE ranks was emphasized as of vital importance to the GA community.