The National Transportation Safety Board has created a wish list describing its most-wanted transportation safety improvements. When it comes to aviation issues, the board specifies three areas where the FAA should take action to make flying safer.
The first, reducing runway incursions, is already on the FAAs hit list as well. Control of airplanes on the ground is problematic for the FAA because the pilots (and drivers) who cause the problems are, for the most part, oblivious to the problems theyre creating.
You can talk about signage and communications all you want, but after a look at the number of people who run red lights, weve concluded runway incursions are a cultural phenomenon rather than an educational deficiency.
Road rage and other harbingers of stress on the highway apply to airplanes because of one simple fact of life: People put themselves first and get ticked off when they have to wait.
The only thing that will stop runway incursions is toll booth-like gates that bar access to the runway until the flight is cleared. That would cost a bundle and would only work at airports with towers.
Until things change, pilots can take a page out of the motorcyclists survival handbook: Always assume that any vehicle around is about to try to hit you. Be ready with an out, and dont expect someone else to supply it to you.
Thats an imperfect solution, but is a hearty reminder to pilots that they have the responsibility to know where they are on the airport and what theyve been cleared to do. And even with a clearance, they need to look out the window and verify that a deaf cataract patient in a Bonanza isnt about to T-bone them.
Runway incursions are primarily the result of people not paying attention, of them hearing what they want to hear.
Carelessness on the part of pilots is forcing the FAA to spend time and money battling a problem that shouldnt exist in the first place. That means higher costs and more regulation for everyone.
The second item on the wish list is an improvement in on-board ice protection equipment. In the NTSBs view, that would include a revision of icing criteria and certification testing requirements.
Because the FAA is bound to take this as a mandate to make icing certification more demanding, wed add a couple more dimensions: development of improved forecasting and reporting of ice, as well as a rethinking of the ludicrous FAA position that half the country spends virtually all winter under forecast icing conditions.
Poor forecasting leads pilots into a flagrant disregard for the warning. Perhaps pilots would pay more attention to icing forecasts if the FAA and weather service would stop crying, Wolf.
Ice forecasting and protection go hand in hand, and are indispensable in the effort to make small airplanes more useful (thereby alleviating some of the pressure on airline hubs).
We think the FAA needs to make a realistic assessment of how pilots fly when icing is forecast and develop a system that accommodates that human nature, rather than occasionally wagging a finger at someone who gets caught landing his Mooney with a load of frozen external cargo.
Fear of enforcement actions has proven to be a lousy deterrent, though the bureaucrats would like to think otherwise. Its time to accept the fact that people are cutting through the yard and build a path.
The third item, fighting Transport category aircraft that operate with explosive air/fuel mixtures in their fuel tanks, is a political football that doesnt really apply to GA airplanes. Preventing airliners from randomly exploding is certainly a noble goal, but the event is such a non-occurrence we cant get too enthused about it as a priority.
If it helps get attention (and funding) for all the items on the list, however, well do our part to bang the drum.
The fact that the NTSB has come out with these specific priorities shows a political savvy that may help things get done.
Accept the FAAs pet project battling runway incursions. Satisfy the alphabet groups by tossing a bone to general aviation. Give the airlines reason to think theyll escape unscathed by battling an unlikely problem.
Together, the three priorities work to eliminate opposition by giving a little to everyone – classic Washington behavior.
But for general aviation pilots, this is a good deal. That is, as long as they make progress on solving the problems rather than just studying them in committee.
-by Ken Ibold