The Federal Aviation Administration and the entire general aviation community have been working together for years to reduce fatal accidents in small aircraft by using data to determine the leading cause of accidents. Those efforts have focused most recently on stalls and other loss-of-control incidents, because they account for 40% of small aircraft accidents.
Aircraft design contributes significantly to general aviation operations safety, but pilot awareness and decision-making will always play a key role in aviation safety, no matter how many safety features the FAA requires on an airplane.
An accident finding of pilot error does not suggest that the pilot's decision-making was the only factor in an accident. But the pilot's reaction to problems that develop in flight — including maintenance issues, running out of fuel, weather and other factors — frequently makes the difference between a safe landing and a different outcome.
The FAA recently made it easier and more cost-effective for pilots to install safety technology that helps them prevent losing control of the plane in flight. The aviation community also is working on improved pilot training and education to help pilots respond to the many scenarios they may face while flying.
Accident data do not point to aircraft design or defective parts as a major cause of small aircraft accidents. However, the FAA has made many important safety improvements in aircraft design and standards over the years — including improvements to aircraft that were designed many years ago.
The FAA mandates continual, immediate safety improvements over an aircraft's entire lifetime through Airworthiness Directives, if it determines an aircraft part, component or system is unsafe. As USA TODAY notes, the FAA also has addressed design safety issues if any develop once an aircraft is in service.
The FAA currently is working on updated certification standards for small aircraft that will streamline the process to introduce new and innovative safety technology on future and existing small airplanes. Congress and industry support the effort to implement those rules as quickly as possible.
Peggy Gilligan is the Federal Aviation Administration's associate administrator for aviation safety.