By Aaron Sauer, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator, and Amy Terrone, NTSB Safety Advocate
Loss of control and midair accidents, drones in accident investigations, startle effects and distraction, general aviation safety trends, and survivor stories (oh my!)—these are just a few of the topics NTSB staff will present at this year’s Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The goal of our presentations is to encourage every aviator and aviation professional to raise the bar of their safety culture.
Safety culture comprises an organization’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and values regarding safety. It’s an idea with its roots in the safety of organizations; however, pilots have their own unique safety culture, as well, exchanging information informally about aircraft characteristics, avionics, and even en-route concerns, such as weather and notices to airmen (NOTAMs), that might affect a flight.
In fact, every organization has a culture, but not all culture is related to a formal organization. We are interested in helping pilots raise the safety culture bar within the broader aviation community. That’s why nearly 20 NTSB investigators, vehicle recorder specialists, safety advocates, and even the NTSB’s own Chairman Robert Sumwalt will be walking the AirVenture grounds daily July 22–28, sharing insights and learning from others.
AirVenture is billed as the largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts in the United States, and maybe even the world. One week each summer, more than 500,000 EAA members, aviation enthusiasts, and pilots from 80 countries come to Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Attendees watch air shows and aerobatics and pyrotechnics displays, and attend educational forums, workshops, and demonstrations. In addition to those in the aviation industry, the event also draws members of the general public interested in aviation.
We’ve maintained an exhibit booth and delivered informative presentations at AirVenture for the past 15 years. In addition to presenting, NTSB investigators are always on hand to begin the on‑scene phase of an investigation if needed, because, unfortunately, at least one or two accidents occur each year as aircraft fly into the event. In fact, these fly-in accidents have led us to publish a safety alert urging pilots to keep their focus on safety while arriving at a major fly-in event like AirVenture, where there are more planes in the parking lot than cars.
This year we’ve asked some of the industry’s leading safety experts and those with unique insights to help us spread our safety culture message.
We’ll work with Patty Wagstaff, a legendary acrobatic pilot, to kick off the first day of the event with a discussion about what it means to “Raise the Bar of Your Safety Culture with Challenging Training.” Tim LeBaron, the deputy director for the NTSB Office of Aviation Safety Regional Operations, will introduce Wagstaff and offer preliminary comments on this issue.
The rest of the week will be filled with opportunities to learn more about how pilots can play their part in building a stronger safety culture. Staff will present several accident case studies that highlight pilot errors, lack of proficiency, and decisions that led to loss of control in flight. They will include a case study of a Teterboro, New Jersey, crash that illustrates our new Most Wanted List (MWL) issue area, “Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations.”
We will also talk about weather challenges—a significant concern in general aviation flying—and how to manage and overcome a variety of scenarios, and we’ll share several safety alerts related to weather. Our research team will present general aviation safety trends and new statistics, and we’ll discuss distraction, a long-time MWL issue that is dramatically affected by the proliferation of technology in the cockpit.
But perhaps the most important presentations we will give are the ones that remind us of why we do what we do—that is, issue safety recommendations to prevent accidents and crashes.
We’ve also teamed up with two accident survivors to help drive our message home. These speakers will share their harrowing stories in the hopes that they can motivate other pilots to avoid the same mistakes. Dan Bass will offer the riveting story of how he survived an in-flight loss of consciousness due to a carbon monoxide leak, a serious safety concern that has prompted us to release several safety alerts on the topic. Trent Palmer and Nikk Audenried will share their story about a loss-of-control accident they experienced that was widely shared via YouTube. Preventing loss of control in flight has been featured on the NTSB MWL for several years.
If you’re attending AirVenture, plan to visit our booth in Exhibit Hangar D in the Federal Pavilion to meet investigators, touch a real-life “black box” (actually orange), and learn about our most important general aviation safety issues and our current MWL. You’ll likely find the Chairman engaging with pilots around our booth, and you can tune into EAA radio during the week for some of his key general aviation safety insights. We would certainly like to see you join us for our presentations and you can plan your itinerary by visiting https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/2019-EAA-AirVenture-EVT.aspx.
Even if you can’t make it to AirVenture 2019, rest assured that we’re using opportunities like AirVenture throughout the year to encourage general aviation aviators and aviation professionals to raise the bar when it comes to safety.