1. How does the Airpark compare to similar airports in terms of safety and operations?
The Airpark has a 4200 foot runway. Of the nearly 5000 public airports in the USA, 49% have a runway under 4000 feet and 51% have a runway over 4000 feet. The airpark has approximately 160 aircraft based on the field and averages about 132 operations per day. Statistical accident data that compares airparks has not been found. The NTSB website shows 32 accidents at the airpark dating back to 1983.
2. Are jets more or less safe than propeller planes? What about the size of jets and the fuel they use?
All pilots are trained to safely operate their aircraft, regardless of the type of aircraft. FAA regulations ensure that this strict discipline is maintained and pilots are periodically reexamined to ensure that they are qualified in the category of airplane that they fly. Simple, light and slower aircraft are generally used for training while larger more complex aircraft are used for extended travel. To ensure safety, operations of larger more complex aircraft require additional FAA licenses and certifications, and are flown by more experienced pilots. Simple aircraft are powered by gasoline piston engines with propellers while higher performance aircraft are powered by jet turbines with propellers or jet engines and use a fuel called Jet A, which is similar to automotive diesel fuel. Simple aircraft are lighter and carry less fuel while higher performance aircraft are heavier and carry more fuel. The size of the airpark limits the size of aircraft that can use the airpark.
3. What can be done to make the Airpark safer for residents who live in the community?
The Revenue Authority has taken the following steps since the time of the December accident with some actions taken as part of their regular operations:
A. conducted meetings with the Pilots last winter to discuss the accident as well as best practices to reduce noise over the neighbors.
B. met with AOPA to review airpark operations and the AOPA’s fly friendly recommendations. The Airpark will be implementing changes to the Pilot pamphlet related to noise abatement based on the recommendations of AOPA.
C. The FBO and Revenue Authority have agreed to proactively promote fly friendly suggestions in our communications.
D. Revenue Authority has reviewed airport signage with the Pilots and will be implementing recommended updates to improve signage about noise abatement and other guidelines.
E. Revenue Authority will be conducting Pilot seminars this winter to educate and emphasize policies.
F. The flight school has agreed to require a flight instructor be in the aircraft when student pilots are conducting touch and go operations.
G. The flight school has agreed to discuss Community sensitive time restrictions for touch and go operations. Continued negotiations on this will be managed by the Airpark Liaison Committee.
The FAA, NTSB and the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) work closely with the pilot community to study aircraft accidents and statistics and develop new equipment or improve pilot training the improve safety. Pilots are required to be trained by FAA Certified Flight Instructors and are required to maintain their currency through minimum flight time requirements, recurrent training, simulator training, flight reviews and periodic medical exams. The FAA requires that the all aircraft at least annually or more frequently if they are used for commercial purposes undergo an extensive annual inspection to ensure airworthiness by an FAA certified Airframe and Power Plant mechanic.
4. Would a tower (controlled airport) make the Airpark safer? Would it have prevented the December incident?
The FAA establishes safety at airports by ensuring that pilots are properly trained in traffic pattern procedures at both towered and non-towered airports. Control towers are generally installed at airports with high traffic density to both facilitate traffic pattern flow in the air and aircraft movement on the ground. The limited number of operations at the Gaithersburg Airpark do not meet the FAA threshold for a control tower.
Regardless, operations at all airports are the pilot’s responsibility and require vigilance to see and avoid, communicate properly and adhere to standard traffic pattern procedures. The final NTSB report will shed light on the cause and, if necessary, make recommendations to the FAA for any needed or required improvements.
5. What about automated equipment on planes that monitor take offs and landings (vertical profiles)?
The FAA ensures that all pilots are properly trained in traffic pattern procedures, which include take offs and landings. They are also trained to safely control their aircraft based upon its flight characteristic by maintaining altitude, vertical speed and airspeed. All aircraft have instruments, which the pilot uses to monitor these conditions. Many aircraft are equipped with automated equipment, which allow for descent to the airport (vertical) profile when the visibility is low. For normal visual approaches the pilot uses a Visual Approach Slope Indicator (VASI) to ensure that they are at or above the standard FAA 3 degree approach to descend and land.
A VASI is aircraft equipment that provides pilots with visual reference for guidance purposes while operating aircraft during approach for landing.
6. What can be done to make planes safer once they have taken off and are in the air?
Overall air travel is considered a very safe mode of transportation. Technology continues to improve which will continue to make air travel safer. For example, by 2020, all aircraft will be required to have enhanced electronic capabilities (ADS-B) which will supplement ground based radar and allow airplanes to transmit their location to each other. This technology is intended to make flying safer while allowing for increased traffic density.