Air shows and air races are sufficiently regulated despite tragedies like the September crash at a Reno race that killed 11 people, the National Transportation Safety Board was told last month. John McGraw, deputy director of the Federal Aviation Administration for flight standards, told the board that current regulations are enough for overseeing shows and races. FAA officials review standards after every crash to see if there is some risk that was missed, according to his testimony. But, he pointed out that the FAA’s goal is to make it clearer what standards and requirements are already in place. McGraw had this to say:
At this point, I’m not aware of any changes — at least any significant or substantive changes — to the policy and guidance we have in place. If we become aware of a risk that exceeds the boundary of what we think is acceptable, we will make those changes. But not currently.
The FAA, he said, stepped in after the Reno crash and separated the regulation of air shows, where planes simply perform aerobatics, and races, where pilots race up to 700 mph in a closed course. The NTSB, which investigates crashes and watches over transportation safety, held the January hearing because of the Sept. 16 Reno crash and the deaths of five performers at other air shows last year.
Eleven people died and about 70 others were badly injured at the Reno race after a souped-up World War II-era fighter crashed in front of VIP boxes and sent debris into the crowd. The events are popular, but feature risky flying. The $300 million industry attracts 12 million spectators a year at about 300 shows. Nobody died at air shows in 2009 or 2010.
NTSB members are looking in particular at whether planes should fly farther away from spectators and whether flight directors at air shows and races should be regulated. Deborah Hersman, chairman of the NTSB, observed:
Performers are assuming a certain level of risk. But when spectators come to an event, they are coming to be entertained and they don’t expect to be in a situation where their lives are at risk.
The FAA doesn’t have certification standards for air bosses, who direct the aircraft during air races and shows much like air-traffic controllers. That appears to have come as a surprise to NTSB board members. Michael Umstead, FAA’s national aviation events specialist, said waivers for customary flight standards are provided to air shows, which then hire people to direct planes in flight.
George Cline, president of Air Boss Inc., said these flight directors are typically former air-traffic controllers with a great deal of aviation experience. Cline said there are briefings for pilots before each show to review flying patterns, weather and directions. But he also said there is no training in place right now for an air boss. That disturbed NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt. Cline said that if the FAA worked with the industry to develop certification for air bosses, it “would make air shows safer.” But from all accounts there won’t be any major changes coming from the FAA.
Source: USA Today
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