By Earl Weener
This past week General Aviation (GA) enthusiasts from around the world have gathered to celebrate and promote GA at the 40th Annual SUN ‘N FUN International Fly-In & Expo. The first Sun ‘N Fun fly-in took place back in 1974, and it has grown to be one of the largest gatherings of its kind. A gathering where anyone interested in GA can catch up on the latest GA products and find camaraderie. So what better place for the NTSB to be found? The NTSB has been participating in Sun ‘N Fun since about 1984 – and with good reason. Not only is the NTSB a safety promoting organization (and obviously this is a great promotional event), but we are also home to owners of over 40 GA airplanes as well as numerous GA enthusiasts, including myself. It should come as no surprise, then, to see a few NTSB staff “on-scene.”
I particularly enjoy attending Sun ‘N Fun because it gives me a chance to interact, one-on-one, with fellow pilots. And for the past two years while in attendance the question most often asked of me was why is GA on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List? The answer is simple: we all enjoy flying and want to do it safely, and at the NTSB we believe it can be done more safely than current accident statistics suggest. But we also understand there is no one answer to solve the problem. So this year we decided to narrow the Most Wanted List GA entry to a specific topic: weather related hazards, something that effects pilots, flight operators, air traffic control, and weather reporting and forecasting services, alike.
Historically, about two-thirds of GA accidents in reduced-visibility weather conditions are fatal. What’s more, our investigators are seeing the same mistakes made repeatedly in these tragedies. So, this year the NTSB is emphasizing the need to identify and communicate hazardous weather, specifically within the GA community. We are highlighting several areas for improvement, such as improving and providing guidance on sources of preflight weather information, proper use of in-flight NEXRAD imagery, and the importance of PIREPS.
In support of this effort, I’m looking forward to my 2014 visit to Sun ‘N Fun this Saturday, where I plan on talking about hazardous weather awareness and other GA issues. I’ll be giving a presentation at the FAA Aviation Center in the morning, and expect I’ll be answering a few new questions this year. All questions welcome!
Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.