The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about safety, including loss of control, power plant failure and controlled flight into terrain.
Stay safe! This series will show you how you can incorporate safety into every flight.
This month’s topic is the benefits of after-market safety equipment for GA aircraft. We’ll take a look at some products that can improve safety on your aircraft and explore a few new pathways for installing these devices.
Fasten Your Seatbelt!
Many GA aircraft are limited to single-belt restraint systems, but adding shoulder belts can give you the best chance of sustaining minimal or no injury in many accident scenarios. Some of these systems also integrate inertia reels and rotary buckles with quick-disconnect release mechanisms. It’s fairly common to have this kind of equipment installed via a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for many older GA aircraft with single-belt restraints.
Airbag seatbelts are another safety-enhancing option worthy of consideration. Several aircraft manufacturers now provide them as standard equipment and there’s a growing after-market installation business for airbag seatbelts. These systems are designed to deploy once a certain amount of consistent longitudinal deceleration is detected and protect occupants from striking the glare shield, instrument panel and control yoke.
While we’re on the subject, do you know how to disconnect or unbuckle your seat belt? It’s a good idea to be familiar with your seat belt system, especially if you install something new, as the latches could open left to right, or right to left. It may not seem like a big deal, but during an emergency, your ability to release a seat belt and exit the aircraft may be compromised by darkness, smoke or injury. You may also find that some buckles are difficult or impossible to open under load. Using one hand on or under the seat can help take the strain off the buckle before releasing the latch.
Recording in Progress…
Additional safety features suitable for GA airplanes are flight data monitoring and recording systems. Manufacturers already offer self-contained flight data and visual data recorders for GA aircraft. These systems can record important flight parameters like heading, altitude and airspeed, as well as track aircraft component life and wear. Most operators of this equipment must periodically download and analyze the recorded data — often with the aid of dedicated computer programs.
Smartphones with GPS and accelerometer functionality can also act as very capable flight data recorders. In a joint effort with the FAA, the MITRE Corporation developed the General Aviation Airborne Recording Device (GAARD). GAARD is an easy-to-use flight data recording app found on iTunes or Google Play for free and can be used on its own with your smartphone. Similarly, GAARD can also be integrated with an aircraft’s Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) or Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) system to capture additional parameters with greater fidelity.
In addition to providing useful graphing and mapping capabilities, GAARD enables pilots to upload flight data — with identifying data removed — to the National General Aviation Flight Information Database, or NGAFID. This data in turn feeds in to the FAA’s Aviation Safety Information and Analysis Sharing (ASIAS) system which analyzes data from different sources to proactively address safety issues.
The Eyes Have It
Enhanced Vision (EV) systems use sensors on the aircraft to “see through” weather or darkness. While this sensor comes in a variety of forms, by far the most common is infrared (IR), which senses temperature differences and produces a high quality, real-time image of the outside scene. IR cameras are available for installation on GA airplanes and their output can be displayed on multi-function displays. Of course it’s nice to be able to see wildlife and other obstructions on the runway, but they’re also quite useful in depicting terrain in weather or on a dark night.
A word of caution — EV technology takes some getting used to. You’ll have to make the transition to visual reference at some point and that can be a challenge.
Synthetic vision (SV) is another option that tends to be more accessible in terms of cost and equipment. SV combines imagery from sensors and navigation systems to create a virtual view. This picture of the flight environment is overlaid with aircraft instrumentation and weather information to create a single image that contains all of the information necessary for safe flight operations.
See the FAA Safety Briefing article “X-Ray Vision and Alphabet Soup — Decoding GA Vision Systems” (PDF) for a more complete description of EV and SV technology.
A New Angle on Safety
Although they have been used for years mainly on military aircraft, Angle of Attack (AOA) indicators have become increasingly popular on GA aircraft. This is mainly due to a 2014 FAA policy that simplified the design approval requirements for AOA indicators. As a result, this life-saving technology is showing up on more new aircraft and is available in a number of more affordable options for retrofit as well.
The success of this initiative led the FAA to expand this approach to a broader range of equipment.
Published in July 2016, the FAA's Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy includes avionics, electronic instruments, displays, and mechanical equipment for 14 CFR Parts 23, 27 and 29 aircraft. Equipment approved as NORSEE has a variety of uses, including:
- Increasing overall situational awareness
- Providing information that is in addition to the aircraft primary system
- Providing independent cautionary or warning indications
- Providing additional safety protections
Equipment that could be considered NORSEE includes, but is not limited to, the following: traffic advisory systems, terrain awareness and warning systems, attitude indicators, fire extinguishing systems, and autopilot or stability augmentation systems.
NORSEE does not bypass the existing certification processes or the current level of FAA oversight. NORSEE approval is based on the idea that the addition offers safety benefits that outweigh the potential risks. NORSEE failure should not result in a reduction in safety. Remember also that NORSEE is not meant to save your life if you are not proficient or well trained in flying an airplane.
You can find more information in the FAA NORSEE Policy Statement. The FAA also posts NORSEE approvals, which you can reference at any time. Maybe there's something on this list you want to consider for your aircraft.
Part 23 and Me
The next, and most recent, change in the aircraft certification landscape took place in August 2017, when the final rule overhauling airworthiness standards for GA airplanes took effect. With this rule, a substantial overhaul of 14 CFR Part 23, the FAA intends to enable faster installation of innovative, safety-enhancing technologies into small airplanes, while reducing costs for the aviation industry. The performance-based standards approach in this rule recognizes that there is more than one way to deliver on safety, and it offers a way for industry and the FAA to collaborate on new and existing technologies and to keep pace with evolving aviation designs and concepts.
Do You Have Your WINGS?
Of course, there are many more examples of safety-enhancing after-market equipment not detailed here (autopilot systems, ballistic parachutes, etc.), but one major safety asset you’ll always want to invest in is you! As we stated earlier, NORSEE and other after-market safety equipment are not meant to save you if you are not proficient with your aircraft. Well-trained, proficient pilots are competent, confident and safe. That’s why we recommend investing in a robust comprehensive proficiency-training program like the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program. There’s simply no better way to ensure flight safety. The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.
You can enroll in the WINGS program on the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) web page.
This WINGS Pilot Proficiency User’s Guide will give you more information about WINGS.
The FAASTeam has also put together several videos on WINGS:
Did you know?
Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
There is an average of one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.
For more information on the benefits of after-market safety equipment, check out the May/June 2019 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. The issue focuses on the future of aircraft certification. Feature articles focus on the advent of performance-based aircraft certification standards for GA that are helping to usher in a new era of innovation and safety. Articles also cover what the changes to Part 23 mean to the future of the industry, as well as explore the benefits policies like NORSEE (Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment) can have for existing aircraft owners.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.