By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt
On April 23, I had the privilege of moderating an important roundtable discussion on preventing loss of control (LOC) in flight in general aviation (GA), the leading factor of general aviation accidents and an issue on our Most Wanted List. LOC involves the unintended departure from flight and can be caused by several factors, including distraction, complacency, weather, or poor energy management.
I can say unequivocally that the NTSB LOC roundtable event—held in our Board Room and Conference Center at our Washington, DC, headquarters and webcast live—was a resounding success. We achieved what we aimed to do: bring together leading experts in government, industry, and academia to identify training and cockpit technology solutions that could make a difference, as well as dig into the challenges of implementing these solutions.
And I was thrilled to hear that about 1,000 pilots and GA enthusiasts watched our discussion, with many receiving FAA WINGS credit.
At our event, we saw an honest, open sharing of ideas among GA safety experts, as well as a willingness to collaborate to address and overcome the challenges associated with this problem, which is the cause of nearly 40 percent of all fixed-wing general aviation crashes. The 18 industry and government participants included a NASA astronaut, a world-famous aerobatics champion and trainer, GA associations, tech companies, the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as our own investigators and Board Member Earl Weener. I was also thrilled to welcome to our roundtable two bright young minds, Thomas Baron and Justin Zhou—high school students from Virginia. Baron and Zhou (Remora Systems) won the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Founder’s Innovation Prize for a product they developed for pilots to help avoid LOC. Their fresh, Generation Z perspectives on this issue enhanced our discussions.
The NTSB’s Director of the Office of Aviation Safety John DeLisi kicked off our discussion with these experts by reminding us that more than 1,500 people have died in the last 10 years due to loss of control and that “we are here to save lives.”
Our roundtable experts—all leaders in their organizations—discussed both the challenges and solutions to reducing LOC accidents, especially in the area of training and technology. I will recap just some of their key insights:
On Training . . .
- Address pilot weaknesses and skills requirements; pilots should always continue to improve their skills.
- Reward pilots for additional training taken and ratings achieved, and incentivize new instructors to make sure pilots are taught correctly.
- Teach students the importance of maintaining situational awareness during their initial training. The first 10 hours that new pilots spend with instructors can be some of the most important training time.
- Recognize that technology is not a substitute for basic stick skills, nor should it compensate for poor training.
- Incorporate more realistic scenarios into flight training regarding stalls. Ensure pilots have the confidence to do stall recovery.
- Train for the startle factor so it doesn’t happen at low altitudes. The stall warning might be too late to recover.
On Technology . . .
- Find a responsible role for cockpit technology; it can make a big impact on safety.
- Continue to responsibly innovate.
- Reduce angle of attack (AOA); this is the key to recovery. AOA indicators can help.
- Continue to quickly certify new technologies in a variety of plane types.
Other ideas . . .
- Use data to improve GA safety; data monitoring programs can help us standardize safety.
- Establish mechanisms where industry and government can continue to collaborate to collectively find solutions.
- Recognize that regulation and mandates aren’t always the answer; education and outreach may be a better approach.
- Utilize pilot social networks and type clubs to learn and grow.
- Get involved in working groups; study best practices and incorporate outcomes.
- Be aware of the limits of the airplane; pilots should not fear the capabilities of their planes.
- Change the way we do outreach. Unifying around a single topic like LOC helps.
The statistics are trending in a good direction, thanks to the FAA’s and industry’s efforts to address LOC. However, from NTSB accident investigations, we know that much more can—and should—be done to accelerate the improvements in training and technology, because one death for what is largely a preventable problem is one too many.
For more information on the LOC roundtable, including the topics covered, participant’s list, and our LOC resources, see our events page.