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Safety Issues Involving Single-Pilot Operation of Turbojet Aircraft

SRM | April 3, 2017

Single-pilot operation of piston-engine light business aircraft (LBA) is common among small business owners who use these aircraft for transportation. In recent years, single-pilot operation has expanded to turbine-powered aircraft, including turbojets.

The accident rate for single-pilot operation of LBA is several times higher than the rate for aircraft crewed by two-pilot professional crews. In the last two years, there were three high-visibility fatal accidents in the United States involving single-pilot turbojet operations. They have highlighted pilot performance deficiencies that may indicate a lack of proficiency in single-pilot resource management, or SRM.

The skill subsets in SRM include risk management, automation management, task and workload management, and maintaining situational awareness. These skills are essential for operating any aircraft single-pilot and especially so for single-pilot turbojet operation.

The first of the three single-pilot accidents involved a Phenom 100 aircraft that crashed while approaching to land in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The final report issued by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) suggests that the pilot may have flown at too slow a speed while ice was present on the wings and may not have complied with procedures for these conditions that were specified in the airplane flight manual. The airplane stalled and crashed short of the runway, killing the three occupants on-board as well as three people on the ground.

The second accident happened to a Cessna Citation while en-route at cruise altitude over Utah. The single pilot reported problems with the flight management system. A radar trace suggests that the pilot may have then lost control of the aircraft. The third accident happened more recently, when another Cessna Citation lost control after takeoff in Ohio during instrument meteorological conditions at night. The final NTSB reports have not been completed for these two accidents.

Some of the underlying or root causes of these accidents may involve a failure to identify, assess, and mitigate known risks. They could also indicate improper automation use, task saturation, procedural non-compliance, and poor situational awareness. Thus, a lack of SRM proficiency could have been a significant factor in all three accidents.

Single-pilot LBA operators may not have been sufficiently exposed to SRM procedures during their initial and recurrent training. For example, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has only recently required pilots to demonstrate risk management proficiency on initial practical tests. This requirement probably won’t be extended to initial and recurrent jet type rating training and checking until early 2018., in cooperation with Crew Resource Management LLC, offers a complete online SRM course for business aviation (available for purchase through our storefront).

Robert A. Wright is the president of Wright Aviation Solutions, LLC. He is a member of the leadership team of Crew Resource Management, LLC, which has been providing comprehensive CRM training to corporate flight departments for over four years.

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