From Over the Airwaves – The Journal for the Proficient Pilot by Bob Miller

Breaking News – GA’s Most Serious Problems Recognized

May 6, 2011

Dear Pilots and Aviation Enthusiasts,

It was a veritable list of “who’s who” in general aviation that wrapped up a three day symposium on the future of GA in Atlanta yesterday.

Nearly 200 flight instructors, examiners, regulators and industry experts gathered together in the Society for Aviation and Flight Educator’s (SAFE) first symposium to explore ways to drive down the accident rate and improve the quality of flight instruction.

Included among those in attendance were Mel Cintron, head of the FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division (AFS-800) and senior members of his staff who  participated in all aspects of the symposium.  Topping off the event was a presentation by the FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt, who openly acknowledged the seriousness of GA’s unrelenting fatal accident rate and poor flight instruction along with the FAA’s commitment to work positively with the GA industry in bringing about improvements – not by regulation but by simple common sense and systematic culture change.

As many Over the Airwaves readers know, I was reluctant to attend this “invitation only” event because of our industry’s long tradition of holding conferences, conventions, rallies, and expos that do little other than wave flags and boast successes.  My long-standing concerns about our horrible fatal accident rate and inept flight instruction were far too serious to be celebrated in typical AOPA and EAA-like event gatherings.

Apparently, so did EAA and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) who chose not to attend this symposium.

However, thanks to the personal urging and somewhat public intimidation by SAFE’s chairman, Doug Stewart, I reluctantly boarded my T-210 and flew five hours against 60 knot headwinds to actually participate in all three days of this symposium. This turned out to be one of the most beneficial decisions I’ve ever made!

Unlike the fanfare, flag waving celebrations, and top-down speeches reminiscent of high profile GA events, this was a hard-working several day ordeal where sleeves were rolled up and people got down to work.

Artfully orchestrated by Doug Stewart and his close colleagues, Bob Wright and Rich Stowell along with a virtual army of volunteers, the Atlanta SAFE symposium put GA’s two most challenging problems center-stage and then invited “out-of-box thinking” to come up with solutions.

And that’s what happened.  Five focus groups were formed and, after rigorous discussions, each came up with five solutions along with action plans and time lines for completion.

Industry groups including the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Cessna Aircraft, GA suppliers, and the FAA’s top management, along with several hundred senior and master flight instructors all removed their vested organizational and personal interests from the discussions and uncovered workable solutions to a problem that the traditional thinkers in our industry have refused to acknowledge over these past 50 years.  In other words, GA’s dirty little secrets were exposed.

Somebody once said, “A clear definition of the problem is half-way to the solution.” Well, for the first time in many decades our industry has defined the problem.  Surprisingly, that problem is not the high cost of flying, or user fees, or over-regulation, or the future of avgas.

The real problem is, as was so clearly identified in this symposium, our chronic, unrelenting fatal accident rate that is destroying general aviation.  This is directly attributable to serious weaknesses in our flight training community.  Coincidentally, these are the two drums that OTA has been beating on for the past eight years.

But more than anything else, the symposium demonstrated that SAFE is the organizational vehicle to bring the various vested interests in our industry together to affect meaningful reductions in our fatal accident rate by systematically removing the barriers to quality flight instruction.

Congratulations to Doug and company for a job well done.  As for the rest of our industry who are more concerned about membership issues than they are about flight safety, I invite them to do what I did.  That is, get on the bus because it is pulling out – and the road ahead is long and narrow, but the destination, for the first time, appears in sight.

Fly safely,

Bob Miller, CFII, ATP

Over the Airwaves – The Journal for the Proficient Pilot

About the author 

Rich Stowell (Lifetime Member)

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