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The FAA Aviation Safety Programs - Do they really work?

by Jim Trusty
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News

During the research for this article, I had the great pleasure of going back in aviation history with pilots, instructors, and FAA personnel'past and present, living and dead. I learned a lot about these individuals and their dedication to an objective that had never been tried before. For someone as addicted to aviation as I am, it was a great pleasure to be involved in this tale of living history.

As you read this story you will realize the devotion of those involved and learn that sometimes things just have to be done without compensation or supervision or a true plan of action, and somehow they work out. Thank goodness this particular endeavor did! The benefits are enormous and they involve the saving of lives. I thank each and every person involved. What they accomplished way back when probably saved aviation as a profession and showed the world that education mixed with a dash or two of enforcement works wonders. This is even more valid today.

WHO?

While working on a presentation for an upcoming FAA safety seminar, I wandered off in thoughts of who, what, when, where, why, and how as they all applied to the safety programs offered to the aviation enthusiasts of our nation. Who came up with the idea for the Federal government to join forces with the general public and actually make something work for both sides? Most agree that it was a lot of ex-military pilots and leftover instructors from WWII and Korea who became new hires for the FAA and played a major role in getting it all started. The FAA hired these guys as peacetime approached and general aviation was advancing by leaps and bounds and it really got more than its money's worth.

A lot of names came up when I began researching this article and by trying to use all of them, I would surely miss a few. Apologizing in advance, I'm afraid, would not get me off the hook because they really did something great with this and no one or two people deserve all the credit. At the beginning there were probably 50 different individuals involved in almost every state. Many of them are now deceased. For my research, I made contact by conversing with those who knew them well when they were alive. Either by reading pertinent documents, by e-mail, telephone interviews, or personal meetings, the following individuals were all a great help. My thanks go out to: Al Milana, Pete Campbell, Jerry Schmeltz, Randy Robinson, Tom Liederbach, and Larry Williams. Without their input into the safety program, aviation would not be what it is today.

WHEN did they begin?

It appears the beginning was slow, but sure, and took place around 1964. The actual thought process began earlier, but it took a little coaxing to get the ball rolling. It was kinda sorta haphazard until a lot of work was done and the FAA started accepting it as a doable concept in 1968. Once the first program started showing positive results, and that was the Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, the other programs followed rather quickly. They all remain until this day as very successful ventures. There were startups in different FAA regions from 1964 until 1971. When to start and what to offer was left up to the respective offices and to those in charge.

WHAT?

The first program was the Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, which was followed by the Poker Run, the 'WINGS' or Pilot Proficiency Award Program, the FAA PACE Program, and several that are simply called town meetings, safety gatherings, and something we do in my area almost weekly, the FAA Safety Seminars. No matter the various names or designations, they are offered by the FAA; helped by an active FAA Safety Program Manager; some FAA Aviation Safety Counselors; donations of time, energy, and money from the aviation public; and well attended by flying enthusiasts from all walks of life. They are something we in this ever-shrinking aviation community look forward to and, as a Safety Counselor myself, we are constantly looking for ways to make them more attractive to the flying public and to expand and grow new attendees every time we meet. The numbers show we are succeeding. My hope and desire is that we can add some new and exciting programs to our busy schedule of events planned for this year just so we can keep everyone's attention.

There are plans in the works to try and incorporate some of the youth programs and see if that would work. I think the kids would enjoy the upgrade and information after we rework it slightly. If you have a chance, join us for a meeting. They are informative and enjoyable, and many of your friends will be there.

WHERE?

After the FAA named Pete Campbell the National Accident Prevention Program Coordinator, he gave all the regional managers free rein to implement safety programs as they saw fit and a bunch began at about the same time. Al Milana had one of the first in Lincoln, Nebraska. He remembered it well when I spoke to him a short time ago. The first program was an all day affair with two Accident Prevention Specialists speaking and showing a slide show on takeoffs and landings and landing with/without flaps. He also remembered that the first lapel pin was made like a safety pin with a carving of the Spirit of St. Louis in it. I have one of these made by Jostens and wear it proudly.

I personally attended several clinics put on by Pete Campbell and his crew and they were a true learning experience. Some of the alphabet (AOPA, GAMA, PAMA, etc.) groups are still doing these meetings with great attendance and success, and we hope they continue.

WHY?

When this group of new hires came on board, they quickly recognized that the accident rate was out of hand and that the FAA way of expecting enforcement to take care of every problem was not working. As former flight instructors and pilots, they all agreed that the problem started at the training level and that what had to be done was to educate the flight instructors first and very soon thereafter the licensed pilots and then the flying public. By the mid-1970s, less than 10 years after this group started working, training accidents were down over 60%, and we have managed to maintain that downward spiral through today.

HOW?

It has been almost forty years since this brainstorm about how education working in conjunction with necessary enforcement would reduce aviation accidents and it is working better each year. Aviation still accounts for less than 2% of all the transportation fatalities each year, and last year was no different.

We transported over 650,000,000 passengers and had 695 deaths. That calculates to your chances of losing your life while on board an airplane as one in a million. No other industry in the world can match these numbers. By way of comparison, vehicle fatalities in the U.S. alone kill 820 people a week.

As pilots and flight instructors, we are all keenly aware that the root cause for most accidents is pilot error and that the best and most complete cure for this is education. Actually, we don't even mind that the FAA is always around for enforcement if all else fails. It really keeps us on our toes.

THE FUTURE

I look forward to newer and better offerings by all involved and would welcome the FAA back into the fold as presenters of this valuable information. Education has to be continuous for it to really work. How could anyone say no to being safer and smarter in this ever-changing world of aviation. When you total up the time spent staying current as a pilot'getting a medical, a flight review, instrument proficiency check, and then add an hour of instruction and an hour of flight'it figures out to less than a day, and it doesn't all have to be done in the same 24 hour period.

It's really not a big contribution of time to be current and fit to fly.

IN CLOSING

This article was written totally out of appreciation for a great bunch from the FAA who took on a task that offered them very little benefit. It is a program that over 4,000 FAA Aviation Safety Counselors work on daily for one project or another to make it possible for over 1,000,000 aviation enthusiasts to attend a Safety Program of their choice, free of charge, somewhere in America almost every week. I wanted you to know of this output of energy by everyone involved and to invite you to join us. We need your participation. Meeting places, sound equipment, door prizes, food and beverages, speakers, and everything else we use must be donated.

Contact your local Flight Standards District Office and tell them you would like to help. Ask them to do a program in your area, get on the mailing list so that you and your friends can attend, and then visit a meeting and watch us work. See if you agree with the majority of the flying community that education really works and the only thing we need is more of it. I personally am still amazed that you can attract a room full of professionals who have the skill to fly an airplane by simply offering some information and free food. Only one person out of every 400 in the United States can fly an airplane and that means 99.8% of our population cannot!

If after reading this article, you still have questions or reservations, check out http://www.faa.gov/aircraft/safety/, contact the FAA (they have over 100 people in Safety Program managerial positions at the district, regional and national levels), or feel free to get in touch with me and I'll tell you what we have accomplished in my area since I started as an Accident Prevention Counselor over 15 years ago. As you can tell, I love to talk about this safety stuff.

Always remember: Accidents are caused and therefore preventable!

Jim Trusty was the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year (1997) and the first-ever Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year (1995). He still works full-time as a corporate pilot/ flight & ground instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer at MQY in Tennessee. .