Battle lines have formed in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) review of the $10,000 fine the FAA charged Raphael Pirker for operating a small unmanned aircraft. Six parties filed “friend of the court” amicus briefs by the NTSB’s May 16 deadline, including a coalition of major news media organizations supporting Pirker’s position.
National Transportation Safety Board
The National Transportation Safety Board on May 13 released the findings of its Special Investigation Report on the safety of agricultural aircraft operations, which can involve flying as low as 10 feet above the ground. That kind of flying presents risks from ground-based obstacles with scant room for error.
Having lost the first round of its attempt to fine Raphael Pirker for using a flying wing to take video, the FAA plans to issue a public notice reaffirming its authority to regulate the use of small unmanned aircraft. The agency is appealing a March ruling by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative law judge rejecting the $10,000 fine.
“Humans are not naturally good at monitoring highly reliable automated cockpit systems for extended periods of time,” said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt. “And what do we have in our airplanes today…highly reliable, highly automated systems.”
The NTSB has scheduled a May 13 meeting with agricultural industry leaders and federal regulators to discuss its special investigation report on the safety of agricultural aircraft operations. The Board will announce several new safety recommendations being issued to the FAA and the National Agricultural Aviation Research & Education Foundation. The meeting begins at 2 p.m. EST at NTSB headquarters inWashington, D.C.
Business aviation’s strong accident record is no reason for operators to rest on their laurels, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt reminded attendees at the recent FSF business aviation safety summit (BASS). Sumwalt, former manager of aviation for Scana and a retired US Airways pilot, is a man obsessed with the pursuit of improving aviation safety. He reminded the audience that leadership is about influencing others. “Your job as leaders in business aviation is to make sure accidents don’t happen on your watch. You must also be constantly trying to improve. You need a leadership obsession.”
The NTSB issued a number of recommendations on May 1–one urgent–to address the compliance and safety programs in place at and FAA oversight of operators owned by HoTH, including Hageland Aviation Services; Frontier Flying Service; and Era Aviation, which may do business as Ravn Alaska, Ravn Connect and Corvus Airlines. The Safety Board took the action in light of six recent accidents and one incident involving the carriers.
As I write, the whereabouts of the missing Boeing 777 operating as Malaysia Air Flight 370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing remains unknown. The Prime Minister of Malaysia has announced that analysis of satellite data suggests the airplane crashed in the south Indian Ocean but no debris linked to the aircraft has been found.
In her last public talk as National Transportation Safety Board chairman on April 21, Deborah Hersman made a final pitch at the National Press Club for child safety restraints in commercial aircraft. The NTSB has been trying to convince the FAA to mandate the equipment for several decades, and Hersman used the 1979 crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, to make her point. Although the accident claimed 111 lives, another 185 people on board survived. A number of small children were among the passengers that day.
The Greater Washington Business Aviation Association’s (GWBAA) 2014 safety standdown takes place May 1 at the NTSB training center in Ashburn, Va. The keynote speaker will be Greg Feith, a former member of the NTSB and an aviation safety and security expert. Planned topics include the ISBAO program, hangar safety systems and sleep apnea/fatigue.