A Very Tough & Diverse Week

July 21, 2010 by Bruce Landsberg

Blog-PicJuly 2010 started very badly, domestically,  for GA pilots.

July 1st

On Thursday,  there were three accidents and all involved fatalities. That’s highly unusual. The normal ratio is about one in five.

  • In Perry,  Kansas a Beech F33A on an IFR flight reported losing an engine at 7,000 feet and radar contact was lost at 1,000. Two lost.
  • On Catalina Island in California, a Cessna 182 pilot reported numbness on his right side and a possible heart attack. The aircraft crashed in mountainous terrain . One lost.
  • A Commercial pilot flying a Cessna 152 made what appears to be a very hard landing in Venice, California. He then apparently decided to try again and after rolling 1,000′ took off in a shallow climb before losing control and landing on a golf course. Stall, airframe or control damage are unknown at this time. One lost.

July 2nd

  • A T-6 over the Gulf of Mexico apparently spun out of a low altitude loop impacting the water. One lost.

July 4th

  • An experimental exhibition/air racing Schleicher ASW-20 glider, crashed near Pocahontas, IL  – no details. One lost.

July 5th

  • A Cessna 172P with just over 1,655 hours total time went down near Chesapeake, VA. The ATP pilot reported  a flight control failure to ATC.  The NTSB investigation showed  the aileron control column interconnect cable had fractured chain links near the left control column sprocket . One lost.
  • A Cirrus SR22 crashed at Caldwell, NJ after what appeared to be an unstabilized approach followed by several prop strikes and an attempted go- around. Three lost.
  • A Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in Marion ,Ky during agricultural spray operations after colliding with a guy wire. One lost.

July 6th

  • In Keller, WA a Cessna 150 collided with wires on takeoff. The student pilot was fatally injured and the passenger was seriously injured. One lost.

Thirteen fatalities in 6 days. Please bear in mind that all these reports are preliminary so details may change – that’s my disclaimer.  Now we can speculate! Look at the diversity of possible causal factors: Control failure, engine failure,  a medical incapacitation, a couple of bad landings and possible botched go-arounds, two wire strikes, and aerobatic mishap, and a  wild card where we have no idea -yet.

This reflects the broad categories of flight operations that is GA and all  the different things that we do with aircraft. The aircraft are different, the environments are quite different, the pilots are certainly different in skill levels. Now, after reading this, tell me again why we should be comparing light GA flight operations with the airlines and corporate flight operations that are strikingly similar in almost every aspect? Apples to kumquats – any way you choose to jumble the fruit basket the differences are massive.

This is not to make excuses because on final reports it will become clearer that humans made mistakes. We do that.  The value is in learning what happened and add it to our safety tool kit. Will we make it perfectly safe – no! Can we do better? I think so.

What do you think?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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5 Responses to “A Very Tough & Diverse Week”

  1. Terry Welander Says:

    While your aircraft accident vigil is laudable, keeping the big picture is substantially
    more important. Over 20,000 people per year die on American roads and highways. That is over 50 per day. Continually making aviation safer is important.
    Remembering how much safer aviation is compared to other forms of transportation is even more important.

  2. Chris Says:

    Although I’m currently a student pilot, I’ve lived and worked around aviation most of my life, including six years in Army aviation. When viewing the question of holding GA to Airline/Corporate standards, I have to ask “which standards? All of them or those that apply strictly to aviation safety in a general sense?” As you stated, aviation will never be perfectly safe, but there are certainly aspects of Airline standards that may further improve GA safety. For example, the mechanical failure of the aileron cable. Would this have been preempted by a more rigorous inspection cycle? Perhaps, perhaps not. The pilot with the medical mishap; although never a guarantee, would a more thorough physical have caught the warning signs?

    I personally am of the opinion that less government is good government in most aspects of our lives, but aviation safety impacts more than just the PIC, and not all pilots use sound judgment in their actions.

  3. Eric Says:

    Terry W: The last two sentences of your comment, above, are baffling. Are you really arguing that “remembering how much safer aviation is compared to other forms of transportation is even more important [than] continually making aviation safer”? In other words, a passive mental exercise is more useful to aviation than actively working to improve safety?

    While it’s amusing and perhaps comforting to cite the difference between aviation and motor vehicle fatalities, it’s not useful. Almost everyone rides in a motor vehicle, and most do it on a daily basis. Very few people fly daily. Driver training and competence varies wildly and a regrettably large number of drivers are impaired. Most pilots are well trained, conscientious and sober.

    I think the point Bruce was trying to make in this piece was that GA is much more diverse than many people realize and that that diversity presents unique risks that aren’t present in airline flying.

  4. Bruce Landsberg Says:

    Terry….

    The last number I’ve heard on highway fatalities was 37,261. Roaming the NHTSA site is a massive number of statistics so I’ll try to get this in the best context I can.

    NHTSA says there were 17.9 fatalities per 100K drivers. Using approximately 650,000 airmen as the denominator, that works out to 83.2 or not quite five times the fatality potential compared to driving. We could also look it by registered vehicle and that is 14.5 fatalities per 100K vehicles compared to 216 per 100K registered aircraft or about 15 times worse.

    The last time we attempted to equate GA flying on a per vehicle mile basis to cars – which gets in to some really spooky math it worked out that we were about 7 times worse.

    Bottom line – GA flying in light aircraft is absolutely not safer than driving. Good blog topic for next week

  5. Valetta Mowry Says:

    The problem with a lot of areas of the pilot population is that a lot of private pilots do not attend aviation safety seminars. Every time I attend one, or make a presentation, I see the same faces. Those pilots are always ‘hungry’ for more information. Little bits of knowledge to put in your brain “briefcase” in the event something happens that you need that little “MacGyver” moment.

    We are trying to encourage more pilots to attend seminars to increase awareness to new procedures being put in place as well as help them stay safe. Plus the camaraderie is a good thing to share experiences and passion for flying.

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