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Fri, Oct 12, 2012

GAO: FAA Should Increase GA Safety Efforts

Study Recommends More Extensive Collection, Analysis Of Data On Pilots, Aircraft

While accident rates have been going down over the past 12 years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a recently-released study that the FAA could do more to get to the root cause of the disproportionately high number of accidents involving GA airplanes.

The study found that of the more than 200 fatal accidents which occurred in each of those years (1999-2011), the aircraft involved were predominantly single-engine piston airplanes—flying personal operations. Most general aviation accidents are attributed to pilot error and involved a loss of aircraft control. Some segments of the industry experienced accidents disproportionately to their total estimated annual flight hours. For example, among the airplane categories we reviewed, experimental amateur-built airplanes were involved in 21 percent of the fatal accidents but accounted for only 4 percent of the estimated annual flight hours. In another example, corporate operations were involved in about 1 percent of fatal accidents while accounting for 14 percent of estimated annual flight hours. We can draw some conclusions about general aviation accident characteristics, but limitations in flight activity and other data preclude a confident assessment of general aviation safety.

The study acknowledged that the FAA has embarked on several initiatives to meet its goal of reducing the fatal general aviation accident rate by 2018. These include the renewal of the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) with a data-driven approach and the implementation of the Flight Standards Service’s 5-year strategy. The GAJSC, a government-industry partnership, focuses on analyzing general aviation accident data to develop effective intervention strategies. The 5-year strategy involves numerous initiatives under four focus areas: (1) risk management, (2) outreach which is composed of FAA staff and industry volunteers, will be responsible for carrying out significant portions of the strategy. While the GAJSC’s efforts are modeled on an approach deemed successful in contributing to a reduction in fatal accidents, there are factors that jeopardize the potential for success. For example, the strategy lacks performance measures for the significant activities that comprise it. Without a strong performance management structure, FAA will not be able to determine the success or failure of the significant activities that underlie the 5-year strategy.

Among the recommendations the GAO says will lead to greater safety for GA and reduce fatal accidents are that the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to collect and maintain data on each certificated pilot's recurrent training, and update the data at regular intervals. Further, the GAO recommends that the agency should work to improve measures of general aviation activity by requiring the collection of the number of hours that general aviation aircraft fly over a period of time (flight hours). FAA should explore ways to do this that minimize the impact on the general aviation community, such as by collecting the data at regular events, such as during registration renewals or at annual maintenance inspections, that are already required.

The GAO also recommends that the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FAA Administrator to set specific general aviation safety improvement goals--such as targets for fatal accident reductions--for individual industry segments using a data-driven, risk management approach, and the development of performance measures for each significant program and activity underlying the 5-year strategy.

FMI: Read the Report

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