Air Safety Investigator’s conference

September 26, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

report unforecast weather smallThis week, I spoke at the General Aviation Manufacturers Association’s General Aviation Air Safety Investigators’ annual meeting in Wichita, Kansas, about one of my favorite topics—safety.

This is the group that goes out on accidents with the NTSB to help ascertain what happened. It’s not their job to get into the “why”—that belongs to the NTSB—and in too many cases the answer is, “What was the pilot thinking!” Often, we don’t have a lot of detail on the pilot, but it’s pretty clear that they were light on either skill or judgment. In the judgment accidents, which tend to be the bad ones, the question is whether the pilot was ignorant of the risk or just decided to take off based on past successes. My sense is it’s the latter—in too many cases.

Some thoughts and opinions:

  1. Standard four point harnesses in the front seats—protects against head injuries and deformities. Airbags are a really nice addition. Some crashes are inevitable and so reasonable occupant protection makes sense. Much of the safety improvement in cars is a result of such technology.
  2. Simpler avionics in simpler aircraft—easier and less expensive. The group largely agreed that a basic autopilot is essential for anything other than very basic IFR. The smart use of automation is sometimes elusive when too much capability is built in. It means more things to break, more expense to buy, and harder to certify and program—did I miss anything?
  3. Realistic expectations regarding the light GA safety record compared to the airlines—they’re not comparable. We have an ongoing responsibility to educate, but recognize that the unreachables are just that: They lurk in automobiles, boats, motorcycles, and politics—did I miss anything?
  4. In more private discussions that could have been public—the need for recommended performance tables (not multipath graphs that test both one’s eyesight and patience). The POH shows max performance that you and I will seldom see, while the FAA has insisted that we be tested to show that we can interpolate. In both cases, a bad idea. Consider the ASI 50/50 solution—to take off or land over the famous 50′ obstacle, add 50% to whatever the test pilots were able to coax out of the machine. That’s margin and survival!

There was much discussion about human factors—pilots not understanding how things worked—and the ever-popular wish for more and better training. Some people get it and some don’t. Sometimes it’s overly complex designs, and in some cases it’s just pilots trying to get too much utility out of the aircraft or themselves. That is and probably will continue to be human nature.

We apparently cannot stop all people from texting and talking while driving despite this being proven as a big distractor. Until smartphones get really smart to know when the car is moving and disable those features, these accidents will continue—they may become less as many people will understand, but some will not. We like to think aviation people are different, but the Air Safety Investigators have almost daily reminders that we’re not.


Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Mike Graham

    I saw your presentation at the GA-ASI workshop and it was excellent. I was hoping to find the public safety announcement you used about Ipad distractions. I would love to use that clip with my cockpit distractions presentation I’m doing at NBAA this year. Could I use this with your permission, giving you the credit, and where do I find that video clip.
    Mike Graham

  • Bob Knill

    Hi Mike. Thanks for your interest in using the iPad PSA for your presentation. If you send an email to “[email protected]” with your contact info, we’ll coordinate getting that out to you.


    Bob Knill
    Technical Writer
    Air Safety Institute