faa_logoThe Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry are working on a number of key initiatives to improve general aviation (GA) safety: the GA Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), NextGen is now for general aviation, the Fly Safe outreach campaign on Loss of Control, and the angle of attack (AOA) policy, which is simplifying the design approval requirements for AOA indicators.

The United States has the largest and most diverse GA community in the world, with more than 220,000 aircraft, including amateur-built aircraft, rotorcraft, balloons, and highly sophisticated turbojets. Reducing GA fatalities is a top priority of the FAA and the FAA’s goal is to reduce the GA fatal accident rate by 10 percent over a 10-year period (2009-2018). Loss of control – mainly stalls – accounts for the largest number of GA fatal accidents.

The FAA is focused on reducing general aviation accidents by using a primarily non-regulatory, proactive, and data-driven strategy to get results, which is similar to the strategy the FAA uses in commercial aviation.

Reducing Risk
The FAA and industry are working together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies  The FAA and the GA community carry out this work through the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC). 

Formed in the mid-1990s, the GAJSC recently has renewed its efforts to combat GA fatal accidents. The government and industry group uses the same approach as the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST). It uses a data-driven, consensus-based approach to analyze safety data to develop specific interventions that will mitigate the root causes of accidents. Recent accomplishments include more than 25 safety enhancements, (such as training, procedures, and technology) to address loss of control. Examples include a new streamlined policy for angle of attack (AOA) system approvals and outreach to the GA community on loss of control topics. The GAJSC also is focusing on engine and other system failures, which can lead to accidents. 

The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers across different parts of the FAA, several government agencies, and stakeholder groups. The other federal agencies are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which participates as an observer. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry.

Other achievements include several web-based resource guides, information on flying and medications, and overall GA community coordination on Loss of Control topics. Resource guides include the General Aviation Pilot’s Guide to (PDF)Preflight Weather Planning, Weather Self-Briefings, and Weather Decision Making, which provide advice to pilots on how to make safe weather flying decisions.

The GA community and the FAA are moving toward using de-identified GA operations data in the Aviation Safety Information Analysis and Sharing (ASIAS) program to help identify risks before they become accidents. On March 31, 2014 the FAA announced the start of a one-year project to illustrate the value, capabilities, and benefits of the ASIAS program for the GA community. The project explores potential new information sources such as General Aviation Flight Data Monitoring, voluntary safety reports, manufacturer reports, and information collected from avionics using new common technologies such as iOS and Android personal electronic devices.  The project’s team is reviewing the results and preparing a final report.

Data from these programs will be used for GA JSC initiatives and research conducted by the GA community. The GAJSC will work with the community to incorporate their data into ASIAS so that it may be used to identify risk.

Aircraft Design
The FAA is working on a new performance-based regulatory approach to airworthiness standards for Part 23 airplanes. These airplanes range from small piston-powered airplanes to complex high-performance executive jets. The goal is to set a standard that improves safety, enables innovation, streamlines the certification process, and utilizes consensus standards to assist applicants in complying with the performance-based regulations.  The agency’s effort addresses recommendations presented in 2013 by a 55-member rulemaking committee that included representatives from the FAA, European Aviation Safety Agency, National Civil Aviation Agency of Brazil, Civil Aviation Administration of China, Transport Canada, Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, several airplane and avionics manufacturers, and industry groups.  The FAA is working to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking as quickly as possible.

On June 5, the FAA established a new policy effectively allowing vacuum-driven attitude indicators in small aircraft to be replaced with electronically-driven attitude indicators without the need of a standby attitude instrument. Older vacuum-driven attitude indicators are less reliable, often unavailable, and more expensive to maintain than electronically-driven indicators. 

The FAA is also working with manufacturers to build stall resistance into aircraft designs through the use of improved aerodynamics, limited pitch control capability, and sensed angle of attack to better inform the pilot. This work has contributed to the production of autopilots that provide automatic limiting to help prevent loss of control incidents and accidents.

New Technology
NextGen is using innovative technologies and procedures to make flying safer, greener, and more efficient. In March, the FAA achieved a major milestone by completing one of the largest automation changeovers in the history of the agency. We completed our new high altitude air traffic control system, known as En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM). This system will accommodate the technologies of NextGen, giving the U.S. a more powerful air traffic system.

The FAA is working with manufacturers to define equipage requirements and support NextGen by streamlining the certification and installation of NextGen technologies, uch as Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). ADS-B enhances GA pilots’ awareness of other traffic and improves safety in areas that radar cannot reach, such as Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. GA pilots can enjoy the subscription-free services and enhanced safety that come with the technology today. Pilots flying properly equipped aircraft can see graphical weather information on cockpit displays, where they are in relation to nearby aircraft, and flight information such as temporary flight restrictions.

The full benefits of ADS-B can only be realized if all of the planes that fly in controlled airspace are equipped. The FAA has set January 1
, 2020, as the deadline to equip for ADS-B Out in controlled airspace. The FAA is working closely with industry through the Equip 2020 working group. Increased competition has driven costs down considerably. 

The FAA also is clarifying the role of data-link weather in GA operations and the use of portable equipment. Other efforts focus on icing “forecast and avoid” and “detect and escape.”

New technologies such as inflatable restraints, ballistic parachutes, weather in the cockpit, AOA indicators, and terrain avoidance equipment could significantly reduce GA fatalities.  

Angle of Attack Indicators
On February 5, 2014, the FAA took an important step to help improve safety in small aircraft by simplifying design and production approval requirements for an AOA indicator. AOA indicators provide the pilot with a visual aid to prevent loss of control of the aircraft in the critical phases of flight. Previously, cost and complexity of indicators limited their use to the military and commercial aircraft.  Under new FAA guidelines, AOA devices can be added to small airplanes to supplement airspeed indicators and stall warning systems, giving pilots an additional tool to avoid a dangerous aerodynamic stall and subsequent loss of control.

The FAA continues to work to improve RVSM Letter of Authorization (LOA) process
Since January 2005, Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) has allowed pilots to fly domestically with 1,000 feet of vertical separation rather than the previous 2,000 feet at cruising altitudes. On January 27, 2014, the FAA issued a policy that streamlined the process for granting approval to use RVSM. The FAA now considers previous operator and aircraft experience to determine the extent of the evaluation, reducing the amount of time it takes for operators to receive an authorization.

The FAA aims to make the authorization process more efficient with the recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which would revise the FAA’s requirements for an application to operate in RVSM airspace. This proposal would eliminate the burden and expense of developing, processing, and approving RVSM maintenance programs. As a result, an applicant who plans to operate in RVSM airspace would no longer be required to develop and submit an RVSM maintenance program solely for the purpose of an RVSM authorization. Because of other, independent FAA airworthiness regulations, all aircraft operators would continue to be required to maintain RVSM equipment in an airworthy condition. The comment period closes on July 27, 2015. 

Engagement & Outreach
Fly Safe

On June 6, FAA Deputy Administrator Mike Whitaker kicked off the Fly Safe campaign at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) Fly-In at the Frederick Municipal Airport, Frederick, MD. The FAA and GA groups launched the Fly Safe national safety campaign to educate the GA community on how to prevent Loss of Control (LOC) accidents. An LOC accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen because the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and may quickly develop into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot. LOC happens in all phases of flight.  It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is one fatal accident involving LOC every four days. Join the campaign at #FlySafe and follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Most weather-related accidents are fatal and a failure to recognize deteriorating weather continues to be a frequent case or contributing factor of accidents. While the GAJSC has produced several safety enhancements related to weather as part of their work on loss of control in flight, the FAA and industry partners launched an eight-month national safety campaign in May 2014 titled, “Got Weather? to help general aviation (GA) pilots prepare for potential weather challenges. The Got Weather? campaign featured a monthly weather topic such as turbulence, thunderstorms, icing, crosswinds, and the resources available to pilots.  Pilots were able to go to one user-friendly website to get fast facts about the topic and links to partner videos, safety seminars, quizzes, proficiency programs, online training, case studies, and more. The campaign reached approximately 4.5 million people.

Airman Testing Standards and Training
To keep pace with advances in technology and educational training methods, the FAA chartered the Airman Testing Standards and Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in September 2011 to engage stakeholders to recommend ways to improve the quality of general aviation airman knowledge, computer testing supplements, guides, practical test standards, and training handbooks. The ARC also considered how to develop test questions that incorporate expert input and review while balancing the need to safeguard test integrity.

To implement key ARC recommendations, the FAA tasked an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) Working Group in August 2012 to develop integrated airman certification standards documents, guidance, and test materials for the private pilot and instructor certificates and instrument rating.  The FAA also tasked this group to propose how to realign, streamline and consolidate existing FAA guidance material with each integrated Airman Certification Standards (ACS) documents and ensure that knowledge test item bank questions are consistent with both the ACS documents and the ARC’s recommendations. On September 30, 2013, the ARAC submitted the working group’s final report to the FAA with recommendations to improve airman training and testing by establishing an integrated, holistic airman certification system that clearly aligns testing with certification standards, guidance, and reference materials, and maintains that alignment. The group recommended steps the FAA should take to adopt the proposed ACS approach and its ongoing management. In January 2013, the FAA asked ARAC to establish an Airman Certification System Working Group to further advance ACS development work. This group is completing ACS drafts for the Authorized Instructor and Airline Transport Pilot certificates, prototyping use of the Private Pilot-Airplane and Instrument Rating-Airplane ACS documents in selected locations, and aligning handbooks with the knowledge, skill, and risk management tasks in the ACS. The FAA hopes to deploy the Private Pilot Airplane, Commercial Pilot Airplane, and Instrument Rating Airplane ACSs in early 2016. 

Online Resources
The FAASTeam’s website is a good resource for pilots to help improve their skills and knowledge. The site hosts the FAA WINGS pilot proficiency program. It also contains online pilot training materials and includes courses to help a pilot avoid the pitfalls of VFR flight into Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  Pilots, flight instructors, and mechanics are encouraged to register online.

Certificated Flight Instructors
The FAA has been working with the flight instructor community to improve GA safety through improved flight instructor training, most notably recurrent training.

Aviation Universities and Experts
Working through the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) and the University Aviation Association (UAA), the FAA is partnering with the aviation academic community to leverage their expertise and develop best practices for improving flight training.

The General Aviation Accident Rate

While the number of fatal general aviation accidents over the last decade has decreased, so have the estimated of total GA flight hours, likely due to economic factors.

From 2004 to 2009, fatal accidents from Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) have been reduced by approximately 50 percent.

However, the general aviation fatal accident rate appears to have remained relatively static based on the FAA’s flight hours estimates. The preliminary estimate for FY 2014 is a fatal accident rate of 1.09 with 251 GA fatal accidents with 434 fatalities.  In 2013, the fatal accident rate was 1.11 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours, with 449 GA fatal accidents.  In 2012, the fatal accident rate was 1.09 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours flown, with 267 GA fatal accidents. In 2011, the fatal accident rate was 1.12 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours flown, with 469 GA fatalities. In 2010, the fatal accident rate was 1.10 fatal accidents per 100,000 hours flown, with 272 GA fatal accidents.

Previous five-year GA fatal accident rates and numbers:

 GA Fatal Accidents per 100,000 HoursGA Fatal AccidentsGA Fatalities
FY14 (est)1.09251434

The Top 10 Leading Causes of Fatal General Aviation Accidents 2001-2013:

  1. Loss of Control Inflight
  2. Controlled Flight Into Terrain
  3. System Component Failure – Powerplant
  4. Low Altitude Operations
  5. Other
  6. System Component Failure – Non-Powerplant
  7. Fuel Related
  8. Unknown or Undetermined
  9. Windshear or Thunderstorm
  10. Midair Collisions