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Speeches

Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft Safety - Chairman's Opening Remarks
Deborah A. P. Hersman
Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft Safety - Chairman's Opening Remarks
5/22/2012

Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Chris Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet to discuss the results of our comprehensive study of experimental amateur-built aircraft. We undertook this examination last year to better understand the safety issues in this rapidly growing segment of general aviation (GA) and to determine if safety improvements were needed.

You will hear more from our panel about the definition of these aircraft, but, in brief, they include aircraft built or assembled by hobbyists or amateur builders. The aviation enthusiasts come from all walks of life. In fact, some of them work here at the NTSB - in aviation safety, including Craig Hatch and Aaron Sauer who contributed to this report, but also in research and engineering (Dennis Crider) and in the managing director's office (Sheryl Chappell).

Experimental amateur-built aircraft, or E-AB, encompass a wide range of aircraft types - from gyroplanes, balloons, and gliders to pressurized, turbine-powered airplanes. E-AB aircraft comprise about 4 percent of the hours flown by U.S.-registered GA aircraft. While these aircraft account for slightly less than 10 percent of the active GA fleet, accidents involving E-AB aircraft represent more than 20 percent of fatal GA accidents.

The facts: - 1/25th the hours, 1/10th the fleet, but more than 1/5th the accidents - coupled with the rapid growth in this segment of aviation, got our attention and prompted this safety study.

This comprehensive examination of E-AB safety was a team effort:

  • The Experimental Aircraft Association, or EAA, provided significant support by conducting a survey of its membership last year - nearly 5,000 people responded and their responses greatly enhanced our understanding of how E-AB aircraft are built and operated.
  • Our Office of Research and Engineering did a ten-year analysis of accident and activity data and our Office of Aviation Safety staff conducted in-depth investigations of all fatal E-AB accidents that occurred in 2011.
  • Also, as you will hear, the safety study team had many discussions with representatives from across the E-AB community - including EAA, the FAA, kit manufacturers, and representatives from aircraft type clubs.

 

This cooperation was outstanding and provided valuable insights on E-AB aircraft safety issues and solutions.

If you have ever visited EAA's AirVenture fly-in held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, during the end of July, you've seen firsthand the excitement and innovation that building aircraft - either from scratch or from a kit - can bring. This growing field traces back to EAA founder Paul Poberezny, his garage, and a group of friends, who wanted to have a literal hands-on involvement with aviation in order to explore the vast ocean of sky. From that garage came a great deal of camaraderie and community and a tradition of mentoring and support.

Our goal today is clear: We are here to support the adventure of aviation and improve safety by eliminating barriers and confusion and identifying improvements to reduce known risks for this vital segment of the aviation industry.

Dr. Mayer, will you please introduce the staff.