Engine Safety and Proper Maintenance

April 20, 2017
A common theme in the accidents reviewed by the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee is the importance of proper maintenance, training of mechanics, and adherence to instructions and procedures

You might have heard about the recent advances in reducing the fatal accident rate in general aviation (GA). Preliminary data for 2016 indicates that it’s the first year on record with a rate below one fatal accidents per 100,000 hours flown.

The joint work between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry under the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) has focused on mitigating the risk of loss of control accidents. The work has touched on aircraft design standards, the ability to cost-effectively install safety-enhancing equipment, modernizing pilot training standards, and providing pilots with data-driven educational programs.

Loss of control remains the cause behind the largest share of GA accidents, at over 40 percent throughout the past decade. Our focus remains reducing the risk of loss of control. Over the past two years, industry has also worked with the FAA to look at one of the other large areas of fatal accidents: power plant failures. The accident analysis – conducted by a group of government, industry, and academic subject matter experts – about engine failures resulted in 10 so-called “safety enhancements” (SEs) that have been added to the FAA/Industry GA Safety Plan.

Our work involves pilot training and education as well as some new technology opportunities to enhance safety if the engine fails during critical phases of flight. A common theme in the accidents reviewed by the GAJSC is also the importance of proper maintenance, training of mechanics, and adherence to instructions and procedures. I’m taking the opportunity to highlight here three of the enhancements that are now being implemented.

First, SE-47 focuses on improved guidance to maintenance professionals and improved training for the community about the accident analysis results. The FAA is implementing this recommendation as part of its modernization of the existing airframe and power plant testing standards that involves shifting the existing “PTS” into the Airmen Certification Standards structure. This was done for pilot training over the past few years as well. This modernization will ensure new maintenance professionals are trained to relevant standards and understand practical risk management considerations.

Second, SE-49 focuses on outreach and education. The FAA is taking the lead on this work as part of its FAA Safety Team program, and a number of associations are partaking and using the results of the engine accident analysis in their member educational programs. When you attend seminars over the next year, expect to see emphasis placed on proper torqueing techniques and the importance of checking critical parts, both of which emerged in the accident data as common issues.

Third, SE-45 asks industry members to ensure they have a process for returning an aircraft to service after work has been done or the aircraft has been out of operation for a long time. Several fatal accidents involved aircraft being flown with known deficiencies and, in some cases, being flown while maintenance was still underway. The simplest step you can take as a mechanic is to ensure an aircraft in maintenance is clearly identified as “undergoing maintenance” in a way that’s visible to a pilot. Place a sign on the propeller or in the cockpit while you’re doing work. And, you should have a clear process between yourself and the owner or operator of the aircraft to track and identify the airworthiness status of an aircraft. The pilot and aircraft owner naturally have an important role in ensuring that they know the status of the aircraft before going flying.

We are starting to see a measurable improvement in the GA accident rate after a decade of mostly flat numbers. In my view, safety is not achieved through new cumbersome regulations, but by all members of the aviation community actively working toward the same goal – ongoing improvement of the safety of our industry.

You can find more about the work of the GAJSC, including the result of the engine failure accident analysis, by visiting www.GAJSC.org.

About the Author

Pete Bunce

Pete Bunce is the president and CEO of GAMA, an international trade association representing more than 100 of the world’s leading manufacturers of general aviation airplanes and rotorcraft, engines, avionics, components and related services. GAMA’s members also operate repair stations, fixed based operations, pilot and maintenance training facilities and they manage fleets of aircraft. You can read more about GAMA’s activities on our Web site at www.gama.aero and on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/General.Aviation.Manufacturers.Association.