Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Feds target small plane safety -- General aviation on National Transportation Safety Board's 'most wanted' list

SPRING PRAIRIE — Nicole Parfitt was out for a flight with her dad on November 18 when their single-engine plane came crashing to the ground about 1,000 feet from the Burlington Municipal Airport.

Both father and daughter were killed.

The crash is still being investigated but, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, the tragedy is yet one more example of why safety issues that continue to plague personal aircraft flying need to be addressed.

The problems with this type of transportation, which includes both personal aircraft and corporate jets, have remained so worrisome that the for the second year in a row the federal agency has put improving “general aviation safety” on its “Most Wanted” targets list.

The latest list of the top 10 transportation challenges, which represents 2013 advocacy priorities, was issued on Nov. 14 — just four days before Todd Parfitt’s plane crashed into a field.

“It is one of the most pressing safety needs,” NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

A persistent problem

Including the accident which claimed the lives of Todd Parfitt, 50, of Antioch, Ill., and his 14-year-old daughter, five small planes have either crashed or had to make emergency landings in or near Racine County this year.

A woman suffered minor injuries on October 22 when the Skydive Midwest plane she was flying in skidded onto Interstate 94. An Illinois man was killed on September 9, when his small plane crashed into a yard near Eagle Lake.

Two people narrowly escaped injuries when a home-built plane crashed near the Burlington Municipal Airport on August 11. And, on March 5, a 56-year-old man escaped with minor injuries after crash-landing a plane in the Mukwonago River near Interstate 43.

An according to an NTSB fact sheet, it is with small planes and other personal flying devices that officials see the most accidents. More than 400 pilots and passengers are killed annually, and the number has continued to climb.

Personal flying accident rates have increased 20 percent over the last 10 years. The fatal accident rate has increased 25 percent over the same period.

Training paramount

The NTSB, which investigates about 1,500 general aviation accidents each year, states that in many of the crashes “pilots did not have the adequate knowledge, skills, or recurrent training to fly safely, particularly in questionable weather conditions.”

The agency goes on to state that “not only are pilots dying due to human error and inadequate training, but also they are frequently transporting their families who suffer the same tragic fate.”

To solve the problem “adequate education and training and screening for risky behavior are critical,” according to the agency. “Aircraft maintenance workers should also be required to undergo recurrent training to keep them up to date with the best practices for inspecting and maintaining electrical systems, circuit breakers, and aged wiring,” it states.

Gary Meisner, manager of Burlington Municipal Airport, agrees that practice and training are critical to ensuring that personal aircraft pilots and their passengers stay safe.

“Pilots have to stay current,” Meisner said. “You can’t just get in a plane once a year.”


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