In a span of one week in February (19-26) two small airplanes crashed in the New York Metro area. The crashes and 18 similar crashes that occurred throughout the state last year prompted Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to call for a special National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, according to Flying Magazine. A press release from Senator Schumer’s office included the text of a letter from the senator to NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. The letter requested that the agency conduct a “comprehensive safety review” of the crashes “in order to help develop recommendations that could prevent future incidents.” It emphasized the need for the NTSB to look at the crashes as a whole and consider all related safety issues in New York and nationwide.
Citing information from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NewsDay reports that the number of fatal small plane accidents dropped from 272 in 2010 to 238 in 2015. However, in the first two months of the year, NTSB data shows there have been 30 fatal crashes in the United States involving small planes and helicopters compared with 20 fatal crashes during the same period in 2016. So, while data shows that general aviation safety has improved, the spike in crashes over the last 14 months supports Senator Schumer’s call for a deeper look at the more recent crashes.
The New York Times notes that small, private planes, which are under the general aviation classification for aircraft regulated by the FAA, have been responsible for a majority of the fatal crashes for a number of years. In 2014, which is the latest data available, nearly 95 percent of the fatal crashes occurred under the general aviation classification. General aviation is regulated by a different set of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) than commercial aviation. Some industry experts argue the general aviation FARs are less stringent than what is necessary to encourage a culture of safety.
While significant resources and public-private partnerships between the federal government and industry groups have been dedicated to reducing general aviation accidents and the number of accidents have declined, industry experts say that the number is still “unacceptably high.” The NTSB cites loss of control as the cause of nearly half of the general aviation crashes, according to AIN Online citing NTSB data.
A fatal crash due to loss of control occurs every four days based on the NTSB’s latest data. In response to the data it collects each year, the NTSB also publishes a Most Wanted list of safety recommendations it believes will help improve safety and further reduce the number of crashes. A number of those recommendations focus on reducing pilot error. The article underscores that while it is incumbent upon pilots to be better trained and to make more prudent decisions, the industry as a whole must embrace a culture of safety.
Senator Schumer summed it up this way, “The bottom line… is when small planes are crashing smack in the middle of neighborhoods… you’ve got to start demanding answers.”
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Product Liability Section, handles aviation litigation for our firm. If you would like to talk with Mike about a case, call him at 800-898-2034 or email Mike.Andrews@beasleyallen.com. He will be glad to talk with you.
Sources: Charles E. Schumer United States Senator for New York, Flying Magazine, NewsDay, AIN Online
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