NTSB Insights into Aviation’s ‘Safety Gap’

March 29, 2021

With COVID-19 globally impacting the amount of commercial flights taking off, there have been indicators that more customers may turn to commuter and on-demand flights, or Part-135 flights, for their transportation needs. Recent investigations by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB), however, highlight a gap in safety measures for aviation, leaving these flights at risk.

In 2015, a charter flight crashed into an apartment building in Akron, Ohio, while approaching the Akron Fulton International Airport. Although no one was injured in the building, everyone on board was killed. Upon investigation, NTSB found that the operator did not have safety management systems (SMS) or flight-data monitoring (FDM) programs – two things that may have prevented the accident.

Since 2000, NTSB has investigated ‘too many’ Part-135 accidents like this, resulting in dozens of fatalities. Their findings point to SMS and FDM as critical safety processes for accident prevention.

Part-135 flights are generally very safe. However, unbeknownst to many customers, they operate under different regulations compared to their commercial airliner counterparts. Unlike passenger-carrying commercial airliners (Part 121), Part-135 flights are not required by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to have SMS, flight data recorders or FDM, or key safety-critical training.

Although many executive-style Part-135 flights operate above and beyond commercial flights’ requirements, recent cases raise concerns.

Their investigations prompted NTSB to add “Improve Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations” to their Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2019-2020.

NTSB is asking that the FAA implement two new requirements for Part-135 flights:

SMS – to manage and track safety throughout the organization  
FDM – to continuously improve safety with adjustments based on operational data

Even if the FAA does not require Part-135 to meet the mandates, NTSB urges aviation operators to voluntarily adopt SMS or FDM programs to meet the highest safety level for their customers.

NSTB also notes that customers can create a safer industry by rewarding the operators who go above and beyond with SMS and FDM programs with their business.

To read NTSB’s full report, click here.

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