Aviation Safety:

FAA Can Better Prepare General Aviation Pilots for Mountain Flying Risks

RCED-94-15: Published: Dec 9, 1993. Publicly Released: Jan 6, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) oversight of general aviation safety, focusing on the: (1) extent to which mountainous areas present higher risks than nonmountainous areas for general aviation; and (2) FAA actions to reduce the risks associated with mountain flying and the impact of those actions on general aviation. GAO also examined the legal and safety issues involved with the prohibition imposed on general aviation night operations at Aspen Airport.

GAO found that: (1) mountain flying poses greater accident risks to general aviation pilots; (2) engine output and propeller efficiency decrease at higher elevations; (3) FAA alerts pilots to mountain flying risks during the pilot certification process and at subsequent safety seminars; (4) pilots involved in fatal general aviation accidents were not familiar with the hazards of mountain flying; (5) FAA should issue guidance identifying airports in mountainous areas that present unique challenges and recommend routes for approach and takeoff at those airports under visual flight rules; (6) FAA should encourage pilot training by approving mountain flying courses and allowing pilots who complete such training to receive a "mountain endorsement" that can be used in lieu of the biennial flight review requirement; (7) FAA should develop certification test questions that highlight mountain flying risks, since the current test does not include any; (8) FAA has legal authority to resolve the dispute concerning the restriction of night operations at Aspen Airport; and (9) FAA has several options to consider in resolving the dispute at Aspen Airport.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA has looked at this issue and decided to take no action.

    Recommendation: To better prepare general aviation pilots for the hazards of flying in mountainous areas, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to issue guidance that: (1) identifies airports in mountainous areas that present unique challenges to pilots; (2) describes the unique characteristics at each airport; and (3) recommends various routes for approach and takeoff at those airports for pilots operating under visual flight rules (VFR).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA revised its pilot proficiency award program in May 1994 to meet this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better prepare general aviation pilots for the hazards of flying in mountainous areas, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to provide incentives for pilots to obtain training prior to flying in designated mountainous areas by: (1) approving courses and instructors that meet FAA standards for mountain flying; and (2) issuing to pilots who obtain such training a "mountain endorsement" that can be used in lieu of the biennial flight review requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA's distribution of the film is a positive step but does not address the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better prepare general aviation pilots for the hazards of flying in mountainous areas, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require the Accident Prevention Program's managers in mountainous states who have sufficient experience in mountain flying to conduct mountain flying seminars in nearby nonmountainous regions prior to the summer and winter seasons each year.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress required FAA to initiate a rulemaking to promote mountain flying safety.

    Recommendation: To better prepare general aviation pilots for the hazards of flying in mountainous areas, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to modify the written private pilot certification test to include specific questions on the risks of mountain flying and develop a system that targets these questions to tests administered in states located in or near FAA designated mountainous areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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