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Thu, Jul 26, 2012

NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman Holds First Oshkosh Forum

Answers Questions From Members About A Variety Of Issues

By Tom Patton

NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman held her first public forum at AirVenture Wednesday. The chair of the safety board appeared in Forum Pavilion 7 with EAA president and CEO Rod Hightower, talking about the various functions of the agency, and answering questions from the somewhat sparse crowd which turned out to see her.

Sitting in the front row of the audience were all of the members of the board, and each was introduced by Hersman. She then talked about the various functions of the board, and some of the studies and forums held in Washington, D.C., with a focus on GA.

Hersman said that while private flying accounts for only about half of all the flying done in the U.S., it accounts for a disproportionate number of fatal accidents, according to a study done by the NTSB. She said there are some themes that seem to crop up in many GA accident investigations that could be addressed by better pilot training and pre-flight planning. "I think that there are things that should never happen, really the easy things, and then I think there are things that are hard things, too," Hersman said. "And I think that among the things in the bucket that are easy ... fuel starvation. How many times do our investigators need to investigate an accident like that. But things that are hard might fall into the category of loss of control, of not understanding what is going on, and not understanding what the instruments, what the aircraft equipment is telling you, not understanding the limitations."

Hersman said "it's about knowing your limitations, and about knowing the limitations of the aircraft."

Hersman also referenced the recently-conducted NTSB SAR forum in which the board heard from professionals in the Search and Rescue field. "No one thinks they're going to be in an accident," Hersman said, "but if you are in an accident, you want to make sure you're able to be found, and that you can get help quickly." She said the aviation community should follow the lead of some of the smartphone app developers to work on ways to track where you are in an airplane much like you can locate your phone when its lost.

Thursday, the NTSB chair will lead a session in which she will release the findings of a study conducted by the board which looked at accidents among the Experimental and Amateur-Built (E-AB) community. "One of the things that was really important to us was to affirm the value of this part of the community," Hersman said. "This is a growing segment of the aviation community. We want to make sure that we support this part of the community."

But Hersman said the board was recognizing that they were seeing accident rates that were disproportionately high ... outside what they were seeing in other areas of aviation. The study involved a 10 year look back at all of the accidents involved in the E-AB segment of aviation, and last year did in-depth investigations of all accidents involving aircraft in that category. "One of the major findings for us that was a surprise was that we thought we were going to see in-flight break-ups of airplanes. We didn't see that," Hersman said. "These were well-built airplanes. What we saw were accidents caused by loss of control and powerplant failures. But, even more interesting than that, was more than half of the accidents were not from the people who had built the aircraft, but was people operating used aircraft, people who had purchased the aircraft from someone else."

There are over 20 NTSB personnel on the grounds of Wittman Regional Airport for AirVenture. And while Hersman admitted that it might be something of a cliche, she encouraged people to bring questions and concerns to the NTSB personnel. "We're here from Washington, and we're here to help," she said.

(ANN Staff Photo)

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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