Viewpoint: A Proposal To Reduce GA Accident Rate

Mike Sullivan
Credit: Author photo

What if you voluntarily retake the FAA written test for your current certificate, achieve a 90% pass rate, and submit the test result form to your insurance company? There would be no FAA involvement; only that the test is used as the gold standard. 

To achieve a passing score of at least 90%, most pilots would have to restudy the test material pertinent to their current pilot certificate, since in many cases, it has been many years since they last took a written test, and probably have forgotten some the basic material. This re-test provides the incentive to refresh their knowledge essential to flying safely. How long has it been since you took your written test: 10 years, 20 years?

Since it is the pilots who are responsible for about 80% of the current GA accidents, it seems we should focus our accident reduction efforts on the pilots, not adding more equipment to the aircraft. Over time, most pilots will have forgotten some of the basic knowledge material necessary for safely flying, such as aerodynamics, regulations, weather impacts and techniques. Analysis of GA accidents clearly demonstrates that many incidents, accidents and fatal deaths could have been avoided if the pilots would have remembered some of these fundamentals. This has the potential to lower the accident rates.

Currently, insurance carriers base their premiums on your pile of credentials submitted, not actually knowing your degree of aviation knowledge or current proficiency in your aircraft.  This program would provide them with more assurance of your risk than the assumption that your recent Flight Review actually assessed your required aviation knowledge and ability to safely operate your aircraft. The reviews are frequently unstructured, to say the least.

The reward here is many fold: for pilots and the insurance companies, it’s financial; for the GA community, it’s a lower accident rate. For the first time, the pilots could be financially rewarded for voluntarily participating in a safety program. If the test costs the pilot $175 for example, and he/she is paying a $2,000 yearly premium for insurance, then the pilot could be rewarded with a proportional refund, say 20%. 

For the insurance company, each minor incident or accident can cost between $10,000 and $40,000. The insurance company becomes more profitable for each accident avoided, by a pilot who remembered for the test what they may have forgotten over time.

It’s time to try a new approach. For all the safety programs that AOPA, EAA and Sporty’s have originated and distributed, and all the funding the FAA has spent on safety programs, and even after all pilots have completed their mandated Flight Reviews every two years, the GA accident rate has only decreased by a paltry 2% each year. We can do better; we must. One way is to try some new approaches to improving the safety performance of our pilots; while ugly, but effective, what works best in America is money. 

Many past efforts have been tried along the same lines by offering prizes and discounts when courses are completed. But none have used the FAA written test as the gold standard, low that it might be. This proposed program could be tried as an experimental effort for a year or two. If it fails, nothing is lost; if it results in a lower accident rate, we all win.  

The insurance carriers must lead the way to a lower accident rate, as they have done in the recent past with the turboprop community. The underwriters could be an essential partner in our efforts, not just a bystander. Their only alternative is to continually raise the premiums and thin the herd due to age.

Mike Sullivan, AOPA 786597, has CSMEL, CFI and MEI ratings. Contact him at [email protected].