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Mon, Oct 14, 2019

Attorney: LHFE Programs In Danger Due To Misperceptions

October 2nd Crash Is The Only Recorded Accident With Fatalities Associated With Living History Flights

Commentary By: Alan L. Farkas, Chair Of The EAA Legal Advisory Council

Commentary on the B-17 accident in Windsor Locks is disturbing and misleading. Tremendous harm may accompany misperceptions of the benefits of Living History Flight Experiences (LHFE), their clean safety record, and the intense oversight provided by the FAA.

Historic military aircraft provide a unique role in educating the public about World War II and aviation history.  When these aircraft visit a local airport, crowds rush to climb aboard, talk to the crew, and learn about their role in history.  A rare few are able to take a short flight – experiencing the roar of the engines, the feel of the austere seats, the vibrations, the smells, and the views as they imagine what it may have been like to be a bombardier, a gunner, or a paratrooper. 90-year-old WWII vets spring to life as they relive their heroic past. Veterans share their experiences with their families, school children, and the public. Military personnel are reassured that their contributions will be remembered. Tomorrow’s soldiers develop respect (if not awe) for those in uniform.

Warbirds (retired military aircraft) were first allowed to carry paying passengers in 1989, and in 1996, the FAA strengthened their regulatory oversight to establish the LHFE program. Significantly, the October 2, 2019 B-17 accident is the only fatal crash of a LHFE flight. No other Warbird accidents were conducted under the LHFE program. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) statistic of 21 accidents and 23 fatalities in similar military aircraft since 1982 (cited in multiple articles on the Nine-0-Nine accident) is misleading because it casts a wide net over all warbird operations. That statistic includes high risk aerial firefighting and privately-owned aircraft that operate under entirely different regulatory regimes – operations that prohibit paid passenger flights. Even so, of the 21 accidents cited by the NTSB, only three have occurred since January 1, 2000. Historic aircraft operations are becoming safer, not less so.

The LHFE program was thoroughly reviewed and reestablished in a 2015 policy statement and confirmed in section 532 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The LHFE ensures that the aircraft available for public flights demonstrate, “the equivalent level of safety” as standard category aircraft. As explained in the FAA policy statement, the LHFE program provides, “a means for civilian owners to offset the considerable restoration, maintenance and operational costs” of these aircraft.

In order to meet LHFE standards the aircraft have to qualify as historically significant (meaning previously operated by the U.S. military, no longer in service, and rare) and they must be operated by a public service organization with a formal and transparent chain of command that includes oversight of the pilots, crew, and maintenance operations.

The FAA ensures risk mitigation through comprehensive maintenance and training programs as well as the imposition of operational limits (including restrictions on where they can fly).  The manuals used for training and maintenance must meet rigorous standards that address experience and recurrent training, intensive inspection programs, and replacement of parts after specified time in service. In practice this means that only the aircraft designs are vintage – the parts are painstakingly refurbished, rebuilt, and overhauled. The procedures to maintain safety are state of the art. The crews are professional, dedicated, and focused.

This accident was indeed tragic. But sensationalizing the tragedy for personal gain does a disservice to our nation. Let’s not compound this tragedy by stifling a valuable program that has been safe, tremendously beneficial, and well-regulated.

Alan Farkas is an aviation lawyer, Co-Chair of the Aerospace Group at SmithAmundsen, LLC and Chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association Legal Advisory Council.

(Source: Alan Farkas. Image from file)



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