The federal government needs to do more to remove regulatory barriers that make it difficult to install modern safety equipment on small planes like those involved in a cluster of accidents on Long Island earlier this year, a safety expert said Friday evening.
“The fact that the engine of a modern, brand-new [plane] looks exactly like the engine that rolled out of the factory 25, 30 years ago is almost a crime,” said George Perry, head of the Air Safety Institute of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
“The FAA realizes that and they’re trying to work with manufacturers, with the associations, to come up with ways that we can bring modern, safety-enhancing equipment into the cockpits of general aviation airplanes,” Perry told an audience of about 50 people, most of them pilots, at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.
Perry said after his talk that his appearance was planned in early May when his group identified the cluster of accidents and incidents, about three weeks before a Newsday story on May 23 highlighted them.
The Newsday report noted that the seven crashes or accidents to date were the most seen on Long Island since 2012 and were on a pace to be the most in a single year in more than a decade.
Perry, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, said his group regularly gives informational talks at trade shows and other venues and makes special outreach, like his visit to Long Island.
“From time to time there are mishaps and accidents that happen in clusters, and I think human nature wants to derive some meaning from that,” Perry told the audience.
“It’s hard to say that cluster has any real meaning beyond the fact these are random events that are unassociated with one another, and based on what we know so far, that is certainly the case here on Long Island,” he said.
He said FAA rules governing private planes require certification before a piece of equipment can be installed, making it more expensive for manufacturers to change and for owners to retrofit older planes.
“Experimental aircraft are not covered by those rules, and they can install any piece of equipment from any manufacturer, and they have autopilot and primary flight displays and other features,” he said.
“And so it’s a little bit frustrating that in a day and age where you all have iPhones and we walk around with supercomputers in our pockets that we still have 1960s gyroscopes and vacuum pumps that power systems in airplanes,” he said.
He added that his group was working with the FAA, and that the agency was cooperative. But he urged people in the audience to write to the FAA and their local elected officials to push to speed the process.