I am always amazed at the mental gymnastics that some people make in comparing light GA aircraft to the airlines. I’ve written on this before but the false hope that Part 91 operations will ever even begin to approach Part 121 operations is pervasive in some circles. Some politicians, a few regulators who really should know better and some folks who have something to sell, continue to make this spurious comparison.
Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty more that can be done to improve GA’s safety record. That’s what the Air Safety Foundation is all about but let’s get real. GA is not a monolithic entity. We are distinguished more by our diversity than commonality and that has an inevitable impact on safety.
- Business jets in most cases, match or exceed air carrier safety.
- Turboprops are excellent but not as good as jets – type ratings generally aren’t required and they are often flown by single pilot crews.
- Flights for business in piston aircraft – big step down from the above categories for a variety of reasons. The major difference is aircraft and pilot capability. They still have a very good safety record with 12% of overall flight time but only 3% of accidents.
- Personal flying – This includes what some pejoratively refer to as “flying lawn furniture” to turbine aircraft. Here is where the bulk of flying takes place and where broad statements that GA’s safety record is 40 times (or more worse) than the airlines become misleading. Personal flight makes up less than 40% of non-commercial flight time yet accounts for 73% of the accidents in 2008. The machines, the motives, and the pilots are as different as can be. We can do better but reasonably achievable goals should always be set.
In Part 91 there is little oversight and we allow individuals to make decisions about how safe their flight will be as long as there is no interference with airliners and little risk to people on the ground. In my view, that’s how it should be.
Everybody understands the risk difference between a sailor going out in a small boat and an ocean liner. Big seas and strong winds will send the little guy to the bottom and nobody is conflicted or surprised. Ditto, if Captain Gilligan overloads and/or overspeeds his dingy and it winds up in Davey Jones locker. There is no attempt to make the ludicrous comparison to the liner which overwhelms the small craft in EVERY category by several orders of magnitude.
All that said, every PIC is master of his or her own universe. It’s as safe as you choose to make it and we in the industry should not be over nor underselling the risk of personal flight. ASF’s website is packed with online courses, quizzes, articles and more that cover almost every aspect of safety. We show what happens when pilots behave badly and how to make good decisions.
As a group, GA should neither condone nor defend bad behavior but I would much rather make my own decisions based on good information than have further regulation and cost forced upon me because someone else thought that I should conform to airline standards. That’s my choice – not theirs! The safety water has been set out for the horses – and we encourage them to drink.
What do you think?