Break the Pattern

By Earl Weener

NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Luke Schiada on scene
NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Luke Schiada with FAA Inspectors on scene of the Piper PA-31T Cheyenne accident investigation in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

This past weekend was an unfortunate one, as far as general aviation flying. Between Friday morning and Sunday night there were a total of 13 GA accidents around the country. Three were killed on Friday in a helicopter accident in Grand Lake, La.; the same day, three more died in a small plane in Ft. Lauderdale; and on Sunday, two people lost their lives and two more were injured when a business jet crashed into a neighborhood in South Bend, Indiana.

From hot a air balloon to a private jet, from Florida to Alaska, families around the country experienced a loss. In just three days, eight people were killed and several more were injured.

As a longtime private pilot and a zealot when it comes to GA safety, I often ask myself the same question our air safety investigators ask every time they launch to an accident site: WHY? This is the fundamental question driving the NTSB investigation for the 1500 GA accidents that occur each year.

Because if we understand why an accident occurs, those in the aviation community can then learn from the tragic mistakes of others and, in turn, better manage their own risks.

But here’s the rub: We already know WHY these accidents happen. So, the question now becomes why aren’t we learning?

From our experience in investigating more than 140,000 GA accidents over nearly a half century, we know the vast majority of them are the end result of just a handful of causes – loss of control due to flying with reduced visual references, such as IMC or dark night conditions; aerodynamic stalls/spins at low altitude; unaddressed or ignored mechanical issues; and poor planning and in-flight decision-making.

Just last week, in the interest of trying to address this new question, the NTSB convened a meeting in which nine investigators presented case studies on these types of accidents. From the studies and the findings, the NTSB issued five Safety Alerts to highlight the recurring safety hazards and provide airmen with strategies to mitigate risks. 

Here is an opportunity to break the pattern. If you fly or maintain GA planes, take a few moments to look these over. While the information may seem familiar, you might get an insight or a tip that could enhance flight safety. If you fly with others, consider the value of sharing these Safety Alerts with them.

With a vigilant approach to managing risks, the GA community can improve its safety record and have far fewer weekends like this last one.


Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010.

Member Weener is a licensed pilot who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

One thought on “Break the Pattern”

  1. EXCELLENT! I’m a maritime pilot. Our industry is plagued with the same problems from NTSB (maritime) and USCG. Far too many studies and reports on crew fatigue and exhaustion. We’ve known this for decades. Yet regulators refuse to move towards expanding the ‘minimum manning’ requirements for shipboard crews. Reason? Economic pressures from ship owners. We’re tired of being lectured on ‘reasons’ and hearing their studies. We know ‘why’. But they can’t BREAK THE PATTERN.

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