A working group committee of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released a report based on their review of fatal general aviation (GA) accidents that occurred between 2001 and 2010. From the nearly 3,130 fatal accidents reviewed, it was determined that 1,259, or 40.2 percent, could be identified as being the result of “Loss of Control” (LOC) on approach and landing.
If one considers the fact that LOC was one of ten categories into which all these fatal accidents could be ascribed, then one can see why their reduction could significantly cut GA fatality rates. Categories other than LOC in the FAA review, (and in descending order of percentage of fatalities), were: Controlled Flight into Terrain, Powerplant Failure, Low Altitude Operations, Unknown/Undetermined, “Other,” Fuel Related, Aircraft Component Failure, Midair Collision, and Windshear/Thunderstorm.
As a result of the analysis, the report’s recommendations, not surprisingly, urge strong action on the part of the industry to address factors that result in LOC on approach and landing. To that effect, it lists a series of Safety Enhancements, with associated Detailed Implementation Plans, to direct industry attention towards reducing fatalities resulting from pilot LOC.
First and foremost, the report strongly urges that the GA community install and use Angle-of-Attack (AOA) devices for better awareness of stall margins. To reduce the risk of inadvertent stalls, simple and low-cost AOA systems could bring about greater pilot awareness of this insidious threat, especially at low altitude where it so often happens in the landing phase of flight. More complex AOA systems, the report further states, can offer safety benefits in the form of fast/slow, and pitch, limits that increase the pilot’s awareness of the airspeed and energy state of the aircraft.
Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) is identified as another critical area requiring GA community action. The report urges the implementation of flight safety programs focussed on ADM in pre-flight planning, professional decision-making, and use of flight risk assessment tools. The report further states that the GA community should focus on ADM initiatives as they relate to flying stabilized approaches, missed approaches, and go-arounds.
Over-reliance on automation is addressed by the report. Certain aspects of flight training, it states, should be improved to reduce LOC rates that result from over-reliance on automation. Training, the report says, should require pilots to demonstrate proficiency in manual flying. Greater skills in the latter could handle automation malfunction where lack of hands-on skill is leading to LOC.
Another area associated to LOC is pilot unfamiliarity with the aircraft that they are flying. To reduce the risk of LOC accidents, the report recommends the development of tools that will assist pilots in transition training into any aircraft available across the GA fleet. Any such training, it concludes, should identify the risks associated to inadequate training when operating unfamiliar equipment. It should, furthermore, encourage education on operationally specific requirements of aircraft that may not conform to familiar norms of common aircraft in the GA fleet.
For pilots who have been inactive for a period of time, the report advocates the improvements of certain aspects of flight training related to the return to flying of pilots after periods of inactivity. Flight inactivity, the report has found, contributes to LOC. A dissemination of information on the adverse effects of inactivity, the report says, should be a focus of industry organizations.
Other factors that the report identifies as LOC contributors include the lack of use by pilots of advances in real-time weather reporting technology. Lack of use, too, of technologically advanced engine trend monitoring systems is seen as a potential contributor to pilot LOC. Also, over-the-counter medications, and medical conditions known to the pilot, are seen as triggers to pilot impairment or incapacitation resulting in LOC accidents.
With the knowledge gained that LOC is a major contributor to fatality rates in GA, every pilot should ponder the fact and embrace the recommendations of the FAA report. At the very least, knowing what factors lead to LOC may spark pilots into a greater awareness of the pitfalls that have lead to such recommendations in the first place.