A U.S. senator recently held a news conference to announce that he wanted the FAA to start conducting more ramp checks at GA airports. There had been eight accidents since the beginning of the year in his state. He was concerned that the number of ramp inspections in the last decade had fallen from 2,000 to 748, a 73 percent decrease. FAA personnel funding increased significantly during this period according to the DOT inspector general. Parenthetically, the senator noted that there might be no correlation but the FAA should ramp up ramp inspections to check for compliance, ostensibly, to stop the “surge.”
A casual pass through this year’s NTSB preliminary reports for the state-in-question revealed the following:
1) A student pilot lost control on a touch and go, drifted off the left side of the runway despite reportedly applying right rudder, whacked nearby signage with each wing, breached both fuel tanks, and managed a successful off-airport landing after dodging two sets of power lines. No injury. That would have made an interesting social media post for sure.
2) A V35 Bonanza suffered an in-flight breakup from a reported vacuum system loss in IMC (discussed in one of my previous blogs).
3) A Stinson 108 ground-looped during a precautionary landing after the engine began to miss. The aircraft had an approved STC to use autogas—but not with ethanol—according to the preliminary report. The pilot reported that the engine had missed on several prior occasions. No injury.
4) A Cessna 172 stalled shortly after takeoff from a private grass strip that was just over 1,100 feet long. Two fatalities and one minor injury.
5) A Piper Cherokee lost power shortly after takeoff and crashed. Both occupants sustained serious injuries—the engine is being inspected.
6) A Cirrus SR-22 suffered a power loss in cruise flight and although the pilot switched tanks (both of which contained fuel), there was no restart. The parachute was pulled and no injuries resulted. A preliminary engine teardown showed valve strikes on the tops of all cylinders.
7) A Piper Cherokee suffered an engine stoppage at night during an instructional flight and ditched just off the shoreline. The aircraft had flown 5.1 hours since the last refueling. There were three minor injuries and one presumed fatality.
8) A Cessna 152’s nosewheel impacted a snowbank just off the end of a runway. The aircraft nosed over and crashed on the runway, caught fire, and was destroyed. The pilot was uninjured.
It’s a typical potpourri of GA mishaps and tragedies. The usual disclaimer applies to these preliminary reports as no probable cause has been determined, although it seems at least somewhat self-evident in several cases.
Regarding the efficacy of ramp checks, in the skill-based accidents, they might have been prevented—but only if the inspector happened to observe poor airmanship just prior to the mishap and was able to flag the aircraft down.
In the maintenance arena, there might have been an opportunity to ground an aircraft if it had not had the proper inspections. But it’s a bit of a stretch for an inspector to determine if an aircraft has ethanol in the fuel or an internal cylinder condition. We are not required to carry maintenance logbooks onboard but the aircraft should be airworthy and safe to fly. Sadly, a few of our compatriots pay scant attention to maintenance and fly with bad tires, poorly rigged flight controls, inoperative instruments, etc.
So, there’s an effort to do something, anything by government and the regulatory hammer is often the tool of choice. In my view, the real opportunity is ongoing and proper education since it’s the pilot and passengers who arrive none-too-gently at the scene of the accident first. It’s also the rest of us who pay increased insurance, and there is litigation and bad PR. Perhaps a ramp “check” isn’t the best tool but merely a courtesy “discussion” by inspectors since the FAA is moving into compliance, as opposed to enforcement these days. If someone is a consistently bad actor, then enforcement is completely appropriate.
On training: Touch and goes by solo students should be carefully considered. There’s a lot going on during both takeoff and landing, and to string them together occasionally overwhelms the new aviator. Directional control should always be stressed. Adequate fuel and runways are essential for all flight—seems we have to remind pilots of that.
On maintenance: Unless you’re flying a sailplane or a balloon, a fully functioning engine is essential to repel gravity—there ain’t no shortcuts here. Unfortunately, a few of us don’t just believe in luck, we rely on it, usually to save a buck. It’s a false economy.
Looking back at this group of accidents, do you think GA pilots could do better?
Would additional enforcement make a difference? If not that, what? Let’s hear your thoughts.