NBAA 09: Business aviation safety: In a rush

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An operational flight data monitoring programme for corporate operators has revealed information suggesting that pilots in the sector have a tendency to rush approaches. This is just one of many facts beginning to emerge from the C-FOQA (corporate flight operations quality assurance) programme in the USA and Europe.

Earlier this year the Flight Safety Foundation's president Bill Voss, at the organisation's Corporate Aviation Safety Seminar revealed that the C-FOQA programme has aggregated voluntarily submitted data and discovered a number of operational facts, including:

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 © Rex Features
  • The most common types of unstabilised approaches show a high rate of descent on final approach, above-glideslope approaches, and late final flap setting.
  • The most common airframe exceedance - by far - is flap extension too fast.
  • The most common causes of unscheduled maintenance tasks are the use of reverse thrust while too slow, and hard landings.
  • The latter two may have been caused by the rushed approaches described in the first.

Also at the seminar, the US National Transportation Safety Board's Bob Sumwalt gave a presentation demonstrating that recent business aviation accidents provide evidence that the companies that suffered them did not have even the basic components of a safety culture, because management had a hands-off style, and standard operating procedures were therefore neither respected nor enforced.

Corporate jet operations may be safe but, contrary to some industry opinion, other business aviation sectors are much less so, says a report into global business aviation safety carried out by the UK Civil Aviation Authority in association with the International Business Aviation Council and the Business Aviation Safety Partnership.

The fatal accident rate for all business jet civil operations is more than eight times that for large Western jets in airline operation (see bar chart P66), and four times that for large Western turboprops flying commercially. The study made a number of recommendations for correcting the situation, but improved pilot training headed the list.

The business aviation sector as a whole will struggle to achieve its objective of becoming a higher-profile part of the global air transport system if customers perceive it as considerably less safe than the airlines.

If the industry fails to address safety issues and if very light jets expand the air taxi sector, safety figures will take a negative hit unless safety management performance improves. According to the CAA report, the two parts of the industry whose safety performance drags the rest down are air taxis, on-demand charter and owner-flown business aircraft.

FURTHER ANALYSIS

The CAA says the air taxi/ad hoc charter market is worthy of a study in its own right, observing: "The higher overall fatal accident rate for air taxi operations may justify further analysis. European operators are subject to direct regulatory oversight under EU-Ops, the same as for regular public transport, whereas in the USA, air taxi operations are overseen by the less-demanding Part 135 regulations. It is believed the EU-Ops-regulated air taxi operations may demonstrate a far better safety record than the overall [global] figure would suggest. This is a recommended further area for study."

The report explains: "Analysis by the UK CAA of worldwide fatal accidents to large jet and turboprop aeroplanes, as described in the CAP 776 Global fatal accident review, revealed that business jets appeared to be involved in a disproportionate number of fatal accidents. The potential for growth in this sector prompted further study, which included an analysis of safety data supplemented by externally contracted research that involved personal industry visits and a questionnaire sent to operators and pilots."

global fatal accident rates 2000-7

The study is endorsed by the Business Aviation Safety Partnership, of which the European Business Aviation Association is a member.

The period under study was from 2000 to the end of 2007, in which time 59 business jets suffered fatal accidents. The fatal accident rate figures for that period show large jets in airline operation suffered fewer than 0.2 fatal accidents per million hours flown, airline turboprops about 0.8, and business jets 1.7 fatal accidents per million hours flown on all types of civil operation (see bar chart).

Among business aviation operators using jets during the years 2003-7, figures supplied by the International Business Aviation Council and quoted in the CAA report show that the fatal accident rate for air taxis is 3.49 per million flying hours, for corporate operations it is 0.24, for owner-operated business jets it is 1.28, and the overall figure for all business jets flying civil operations is 1.45 per million flying hours. This tells much the same story as the CAA's own figures for the period 2000-7 (see bar chart).

ACCIDENT BREAKDOWN

The report presents a breakdown of the 59 fatal accidents under study by the type of operation being performed. This shows that the highest number (21) happened on ferry or positioning flights, 17 occurred on "private/business" flights, six carried cargo, five performed passenger operations, four were air ambulance flights, three were training, and there were three "other" categories.

The tendency for the risk to be higher during non-revenue flights is an issue the US Federal Aviation Administration is to study, because it is a phenomenon that carries across all types of operation, including airlines.

To summarise the operational analysis, the top five primary causal factors were flight handling (16 accidents/27%), lack of positional awareness (11/19%), omission of action or inappropriate action (nine/15%), poor professional judgement/airmanship (four/7%) and disorientation or visual illusion (two/3%). As for circumstantial factors, poor visibility or lack of external visual reference was the most common, present in 21 accidents (36%).

A major part of the CAA report consisted of an analysis of the responses to questions sent to pilots, operators and training organisations in the UK. The main points were that while pilots use simulation for their type rating training, most do not have access to simulation for recurrent training, because for some types such simulation is not available.

A high proportion said pre-course distance learning material was inadequate, and did not prepare them for type training. Respondents also said many employers did not provide their crews with sufficient training to cope with unfamiliar destinations or those with unusual characteristics, despite business jet pilots being more often exposed to new or occasionally used destinations than are airline pilots.

Finally, business jet pilots, particularly those who operate single-pilot flights, say fatigue can be a problem because their crew duty frequently includes far more pre-flight preparation and post-flight management than airline operations do, extending their crew duty time.

The main recommendations from the study covered action required in four arenas: pilot training, regulator interaction, operational issues like crew fatigue, and interaction with air traffic control.