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Speeches

Opening Remarks, NTSB Forum: Humans and Hardware: Preventing General Aviation Inflight Loss of Control, Washington, DC
Earl F. Weener, PhD
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC
10/14/2015

​Good morning.

Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board and thank you for taking part in today’s forum, “Humans and Hardware: Preventing General Aviation Inflight Loss of Control”. I am Board Member Earl Weener and it is my privilege to preside over this event.

Joining me this morning are Transportation Safety Analyst Kristi Dunks and Senior Air Safety Investigator Paul Cox, who, have worked alongside other NTSB staff for months to bring you this forum. The NTSB staff have lined up exciting speakers and informative presentations for today’s event. Our thanks to all of the panelists who are joining us to provide their perspectives and considerable expertise.

In 2015, the NTSB added the prevention of loss of control in flight in general aviation aircraft to its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements in response to some alarming trends in crash statistics. This forum will examine those trends as they relate to fixed-wing aircraft.

Since 2008, in the United States, almost 3000 people have died in fixed-wing general aviation crashes. And, almost half of those deaths involved loss of control. Although the airline industry has improved their accident rate in the U.S. by almost 80 percent over the last decade, the general aviation industry has not seen the same improvements. In the United States not a single person was lost in a scheduled commercial passenger flight in all of 2014, But in general aviation, 419 people died. The single greatest cause of these fatalities? In-flight loss of control.

At the NTSB, we have taken up the challenge of examining loss of control crashes to try to determine how and why they happen. We have studied the nature of the loss of control crash, when a pilot flies the airplane beyond its critical stall angle of attack at which point control can be lost.

We’ll start the forum this morning with a presentation from NTSB’s Paul Cox. Mr. Cox will explore the varying factors that can precede a loss of control event in flight. But, as Mr. Cox will explain, these factors do not predetermine the crash. Loss of control is, at its core, a human performance issue. Although problems may arise, these aircraft REMAIN flyable. It is the pilot’s lack of familiarity with the aircraft, medical or substance impairment, distraction, insufficient training or failure to act swiftly that, in the end, causes the crash.

So today, among other topics, we’ll look at the most sophisticated equipment in any piloted airplane, the human brain: How it works, what might impede a pilot from maintaining situational awareness, and how such impediments might be anticipated and countered.

We’ll also look at current loss of control training, as well as the importance of enhancing that training. We’ll discuss the initiatives promoted by the aviation community to prevent inflight loss of control.  We will consider what technological solutions might aid pilots in maintaining control of their airplanes. And, we will ask the important question, “What else can be done?”

Our final session today will feature questions sent in by those with the best perspective on general aviation flight, the pilots themselves.

Before closing, I want to add that I know most general aviation pilots share my passion and fascination with flying. Many of us trade information readily with other pilots and are quick to discuss the lessons we have learned from our own “close calls”. Even good pilots can have bad days. It only takes one moment of inattention, a miscalculation or a mistake to precipitate a loss of control in flight. The best defense is to remain vigilant against the complacency that leads to lax attitudes and dangerous habits.

As you listen to the speakers today, I ask that you consider your role in aviation safety, that you resolve to be a part of the solution and that you commit to spreading the word to other pilots.  The prevention of Loss of Control crashes should be a focus for every aviation type club, pilots association and aircraft related forum. In the future we hope to see this on your own Twitter feed or Facebook page. We urge you to continue the conversation when this forum ends.

I know that, like me, your greatest incentive is assuring the safety of the people who fly with us and share our airspace. This forum’s ultimate success will be measured in the lives we can save by working together to develop and embrace best practices. To achieve this we must have buy-in not only from the ‘experts’ but by every general aviation pilot.

Thank you again for being here today. We’ll now hear from Dr. Dunks as she goes over some important safety and logistical information, and some information on how to share forum resources electronically.

Following that, Mr. Cox will give an opening overview presentation.

Dr. Dunks…

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