Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Business Jet Safety Research: A new report from the UK

business jet
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published an important Business Jet Safety Research report that should be of great interest to operators of business aircraft as well as to the crews who fly them.    This new report  is based on an analysis of worldwide accident data, supplemented by externally contracted research that entailed industry visits and a questionnaire about safety issues sent to business jet operators and pilots.

The Business Jet Safety Research report first presents findings from the analysis of accident data.  The second part of the report discusses the findings in terms of various safety issues, and presents a series of recommendations.

Data Analysis

The CAA's analysis of accident data for the eight-year period covering 2000 through 2007 revealed that business jets appeared to be involved in a disproportionate number of fatal accidents, compared to commercially operated large western-built jets and turboprops.  Notably, the analysis also showed that more than one third of fatal business jet accidents involved ferry or positioning flights.  

Also highlighted was an apparent difference in fatal accident rates between corporate operators and air taxi operators.  The fatal accident rate for air taxi operators was substantially higher than for corporate operations.   The report suggests that a significant factor behind the far better safety record of the corporate operators in comparison to air taxi operators hinges on their adoption of industry 'best practice' standards, such as the International Business Aviation Council's 'International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations' (IS-BAO).

The CAA report recommends further study of air taxi operations in light of their much higher fatal accident rate.  The report implies that the impact of regulatory differences between the rules governing US (Part 135) and European (EU-OPS) air taxi operations also may be a fruitful area for further analysis.

Safety Issues and Recommendations

The Business Jet Safety Research report addresses four categories of safety issues:  flight crew training; regulator interaction; operational issues; and air traffic control.

Recommendations regarding flight crew training center on the use of simulators for recurrent training of pilots, and recording performance data to identify areas for improvement during training activities.  The report says:
Findings suggest that pilots might have have incomplete understanding or variable ability in areas such as use of auto-flight modes (particularly in relation to vertical guidance), energy management and poor weather operations. Limited use of simulation for recurrent training reduces opportunities for practice, lack of pre-course preparatory material reduces training effectiveness, and lack of training in additional duties peculiar to business jet operations may cause such tasks to distract pilots from primary flying tasks. There was concern regarding the limited ability of pilots to conduct safe flight without a serviceable FMS.
The report's section on regulator interaction focuses on difficulties operators experience in interfacing with regulatory agencies. Several recommendations for improving two-way communication between regulatory agencies and the business jet community are offered.

Operational issues identified in the report include flight crew fatigue/tiredness; commercial pressure, especially for air taxi operations; de-icing operations; SOP standardization, especially for small operators; runway length/performance issues; runway contamination; and poor reporting culture.  Recommendations include proposals for making aircrew fatigue evaluation software models available to business jet operators; and promoting the use of web-based training materials for poor weather operations, etc.

Safety issues related to air traffic control comprise the final section of the Business Jet Safety Research report. Analysis of ATC event data showed that business jets were involved in a disproportionate number of level busts, lateral non-compliance events, and runway incursions.  The report suggests that this may be due in part to suboptimal understanding of business jet safety issues on the part of ATC.

Questionnaire responses from the study indicated "a lack of ATC appreciation of business jet performance," particularly in regard to climb/descent rates and their relationship to speed restrictions. ATC difficulties for pilots were caused as well by late changes -- particularly departure clearances -- and the high level of radio transmissions during critical stages of flight.

The report recommends measures aimed at increasing ATC awareness of business jet safety and performance issues.

The full report -- titled Business Jet Safety Research: A Statistical Review and Questionnaire Study of Safety Issues Connected with Business Jets in the UK --  is available for download from the CAA website.  Here is the link:  CAA Paper 2009/03 - 56-page 'pdf' file