Gearing Up - December 2011
USPA just received the National Transportation Safety Board’s final response on USPA’s initiatives to address the safety board’s concerns about jump-plane inspection and maintenance issues. The safety board was clearly pleased with USPA’s efforts to both educate operators about inspection and maintenance requirements, as well as our effort to verify each jump plane’s inspection method. The safety board closed the recommendation and classified it with a rare “Exceeds Recommended Action.” USPA’s board and our Group Member operators should be proud of taking decisive industry action to address the safety board’s concerns. And skydivers of every level can have greater confidence that the jump planes at Group Member DZs are meeting FAA inspection and maintenance requirements.
Frequent readers will recall that in late 2008, the NTSB issued a scathing report on the quality of jump-plane maintenance, the laxity of jump-plane pilots and the lack of standardized seat belts and restraints, based on its review of fatal jump-plane accidents over a 28-year period. When reviewing the individual accident reports, the NTSB found that many operators complied with regulations and best practices but that a number did not. As a result, the NTSB issued a series of recommendations to both USPA and the Federal Aviation Administration urging action to address those issues. Though USPA faulted the study’s approach—after all, it included a number of accidents involving radial-engine Beech 18s and DC-3s from an era when seat belts weren’t worn or even installed—we also realized it was an opportunity for USPA and good operators to step up. If we didn’t, we knew the FAA would feel pressed by the NTSB to act, perhaps with new regulations.
Taking on the maintenance issue first, USPA’s board endorsed a two-pronged effort: First, USPA developed a guidance packet that explained and clarified the regulations that apply to jump aircraft; then, we required each Group Member DZ to verify the specific inspection program it applied to each of its aircraft. Sure, some operators grumbled, but understanding the stakes, there was near-universal compliance by DZOs in 2010. With that issue addressed, USPA wrote the NTSB with details of our inspection and maintenance effort and described the level of DZ compliance. Then, we turned to the pilot proficiency and seat-belt/restraint issues.
After a time, the NTSB “closes” each of its recommendations with an official comment that classifies the response by the recipient as anything in a range from “Acceptable Response” or “Acceptable Action” to “Unacceptable Response” or “Unacceptable Action.” While the safety board has no regulatory authority and cannot compel the recipient of a recommendation to enact the desired action, the board doesn’t shy away from informing the media and even Congressional committees when it believes a needed safety action is being ignored. So a finding of “Exceeds Recommended Action” on the jump-plane inspection and maintenance issues is a great achievement for skydiving as a whole.
Recently, USPA completed actions to address the remaining NTSB recommendations on pilot training and proficiency and on the use of seat belts and restraints, which have been reported in the past couple of issues of Parachutist and USPA’s e-newsletters, “USPA Update” and “The USPA Professional.” We’ve written the safety board about these recent actions, and we’re expecting the safety board to close those recommendations with “Acceptable Action” if not “Exceeds Recommended Action.” We’ll let you know what they say.
Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director