Last year, ICAS conducted a safety survey that appeared in the third quarter magazine. ICAS asked, “Who is responsible for air show safety?” The results were mixed. The majority of performers (80 percent) felt that individual performers were most responsible for preserving safety at air shows. Producers and event organizers were split between the waiver holder, performers and the air boss.
Performers tend to think of air show safety in terms of aircraft accidents, either during flight or on the ground. Their focus is on flying the aircraft and flying their routine, as it should be. Given that focus, it is not surprising that four out of five feel performers are most responsible for air show safety.
While it is true that performers are most responsible for safely operating their aircraft, a review of the accidents from the last ten years tells a different story. Eighty percent of the accidents were not caused by aircraft failures. They were caused by human factors. Errors, lost situational awareness, fatigue, stress, poor decision making, being rushed; these are the real reasons for these accidents and they go well beyond flying the aircraft.
All of us grouse when the NTSB report simply says the pilot lost control and flew into the ground. In the final accident report, a discussion of contributing factors is very rare, yet a review of the accidents reveals just the opposite. The facts show that the human factors considerations, which would normally be listed as contributing factors, are key factors in the accidents. Human factor issues are substantially impacted by everyone involved in putting on an air show.
A poor night’s rest leaves the performer fatigued impacting decision making and G tolerance. Stress from being rushed without a fuel truck in sight is a distraction that doesn’t go away when you strap on the airplane. A poorly trained air boss might allow others to dictate events, seriously impacting the safety of the air show. All these things directly impact the safety of the flying portion of an air show and everyone involved in the air show plays a part in making things go right.
The performer is most responsible for safely operating his or her aircraft, but everyone from the event organizer to the hotel clerk to the fuel truck handler is responsible for the conditions that make that possible.
So, who is responsible for air show safety? Everyone.