By Barbara Harper and Howard Deevers
The NTSB investigates accidents to determine “Probable Cause.” The investigations take months if not years, and the NTSB looks at every mechanical part, pilot qualifications, maintenance records, history, and weather, and more. The final report is quite extensive.
Pilots can learn from reading these accident reports, but after reading many of them, we think that something is missing: Avionics. None of the reports discuss the avionics installed in GA aircraft. We know that they are paying attention to avionics in air carrier aircraft, thus the grounding of the B737 MAX 8 for so long.
The evolution in avionics over the last two decades is astonishing. GPS has almost replaced all other navigation uses. ADS-B gives us traffic and weather on built in displays or portable displays. “Steam” gauges have been replaced by Flat Screen displays. New autopilots have replaced the old wing leveler. Most of these advancements are hailed as “making aviation safer” for pilots. That may be true, but only with proper training in use of these electronics.
For optimal results, the NTSB should have a more ambitious purpose when investigating General Aviation accidents/incidents. With all the new technological products available for navigation, course guidance, weather and obstacles, the NTSB does not indicate on their final report anything about the avionics installed in the aircraft. We think it would be helpful if we knew what the pilots had at their disposal, and if they knew how to use it.
There are over two dozen aircraft accidents with Cessna, Piper, and Cirrus that most likely had the high technology autopilots, and sensors to control them, on board. However, nothing in NTSB records tells us about that. We think that it would be valuable information to other pilots that fly with high technology autopilots.
The Angle of Attack indicator (AOA) is an inexpensive, easy to install, device that would help prevent unintentional stalls in GA. Less than 10% of the GA fleet has been equipped. A new Cirrus will come with the AOA as standard equipment, built into the panel. An instructor friend that flies mostly with Cirrus pilots says that many of the owners are unaware that the AOA is there or how to use it.
To improve GA safety, and to learn from accident reports, we would encourage the NTSB to include the avionics installed in the aircraft in the final report. That information might help the industry uncover trends in use, or even defects, in products being manufactured. The NTSB could then recommend training or manufacturing procedures that would lead to an even safer General Aviation.
Safety is important to the airlines, so much so that their pilots receive recurrent training about twice a year in simulators. This is a supervised structured training to address trends or issues with their pilots and to learn new equipment.
In the GA world, we have desktop simulators available to us, and there are full motion simulators for GA aircraft available, too. Most of these are located at flight schools or sophisticated flying clubs, and not available to non-members. Home desktop computers are almost everywhere, and there are many inexpensive flight simulator programs available. We all know of pilots that have built their own flight simulators. Although these simulators are not FAA approved for logging time, they still serve to educate the prospective or active pilot.
The Arizona Pilots Association and The FAASAfety team present Safety Seminars all over the State, and Avionics is a popular subject. Look for a seminar near you, or online. “Don't forget to bring your wingman.”