(Washington, DC) – In a letter today to Federal Aviation Administrator Michael P. Huerta, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called for stronger safety measures to curb a deadly trend in small aircraft crashes. Connecticut has seen eight small aircraft crashes and six fatalities in 2017, on track to be the deadliest year for plane accidents in over a decade.
The letter urges the FAA to investigate training, medical vetting, maintenance, safety regulations and resources to determine how to prevent future tragedy.
“Our commercial aviation sector is among the safest in world. It has been over eight years since we witnessed a fatal crash involving a commercial airline in this country – a testament to the training, vetting, and oversight of commercial aviation. General aviation, however, presents a troubling tale that consists of hundreds of deadly crashes each year – including half a dozen in Connecticut in recent months. It is imperative that we bring the same level of safety that exists in commercial aviation to the general aviation sector,” Blumenthal said.
Full text of the letter is copied below.
August 25, 2017
Michael P. Huerta
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW, Room 1022
Washington, DC 20591
Dear Administrator Huerta:
Connecticut has seen a recent spike in deadly crashes involving small aircraft. Since January 1, 2017, there have been eight accidents and six fatalities in my state. We are only eight months into the year, but that is already as many crashes as Connecticut endured in all of 2016 and more deaths than any year since 2005, according to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board. If this trend continues, 2017 could end up being the state’s deadliest year in decades. I write with grave concerns about this matter, demanding to know what actions you are taking to stem the tide of aviation fatalities and crashes.
The term “general aviation” refers to flights by private and recreational pilots in small aircraft. This field of aviation is different than commercial aviation, which is mostly associated with major air carriers. Our commercial aviation sector is among the safest in world. It has been over eight years since we witnessed a fatal crash involving a commercial airline in this country – a testament to the training, vetting, and oversight of commercial aviation. General aviation, however, presents a troubling tale that consists of hundreds of deadly crashes each year – including half a dozen in Connecticut in recent months. It is imperative that we bring the same level of safety that exists in commercial aviation to the general aviation sector. Accordingly, please inform me as to what steps you are taking to ensure better safety in general aviation, and specifically, provide answers to the following questions.
Training. Commercial pilots are generally well-trained and highly skilled, requiring as many as 1,500 hours of in-flight experience before receiving credentials. They receive considerably more training than general aviation pilots, who need as few as 40 hours to receive credentials as a private pilot – and even fewer as a recreational or student pilot. The NTSB says almost half of the crashes in general aviation are due to pilots losing control of their aircraft and has deemed loss of control the “biggest killer in general aviation.” Is the current, requisite level of training sufficient to ensure private and recreational pilots can fly safely and properly? Are flight schools sufficiently addressing the challenges that recreational and private pilots can encounter – from takeoff to landing?
Medical vetting. In 2016, Congress made major changes to the requirements governing medical screening for the country’s estimated 200,000 private pilots. The new framework has now been implemented by the FAA, and it allows private pilots to undergo less rigorous, less frequent screening than in years past. I was concerned about these changes, which were opposed by many medical groups. The NTSB has stressed the need for strong medical vetting as well, having included among its 2017-2018 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements a recommendation for strong medical screening. What impact has the new framework had on general aviation safety? Does the FAA anticipate an increase in crashes, fatalities, and injuries due to these relaxed requirements?
Maintenance. In investigating general aviation crashes, the NTSB routinely implicates mechanical and maintenance issues. What steps is your agency taking to ensure pilots are confirming that their planes are airworthy before flight? Is there better technology that could be employed to detect mechanical difficulties before flights, ensuring they do not endanger flights in mid-air?
Outstanding NTSB Safety Recommendations. The NTSB is an independent safety organization tasked with reviewing and investigating aviation accidents. After investigations, the NTSB provides the FAA and aviation stakeholders with recommendations for improving safety, which it closes after the recommendations have been properly addressed. As of August 24, 2017, the NTSB had 12 outstanding recommendations submitted to the FAA that concerned general aviation safety. What steps are you taking to satisfy all of these recommendations immediately?
Resources. Your agency is also involved in reviewing and investigating nearly every accident, working alongside other federal agencies like the NTSB. Does your agency have enough resources to carry out this task? From your perspective, do you believe NTSB has sufficient resources to do its job? States, local communities and airports are also closely involved, since they provide first responders who are first on the scene. From your perspective, do you believe states and local governments have enough resources to address the costs brought by crashes in their communities?
I look forward to your attention to this matter and responses to my questions.
United States Senate