Black Swan Update: Air Show Disasters

January 10th, 2012

Earlier I blogged about two back-to-back airshow disasters and raised the specter of possible black swan laws. Some updates:

Despite a year that saw 11 deaths at the Reno Air Races in Nevada and five performers die at air shows elsewhere, federal regulators and air show organizers Tuesday vouched for the safety of the system, saying U.S. air show rules are stricter than those in other countries and do not need major revision.

U.S. rules require more distance between aerobatic aircraft and audiences than regulations in most other nations, they said. And the U.S. prohibits “aerobatic energy” from being directed towards the audience, unlike most European countries where planes can perform stunts and maneuvers while headed towards the crowd.

“We are by far the most conservative nation,” said John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows.

But there still will be changes.

But the National Transportation Safety Board, which scheduled Tuesday’s hearing in response to the Reno crash in September, indicated it will be recommending changes, particularly for races.

“Performers are assuming a certain level of risk. We understand that,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “But when spectators come to an event, they are coming to be entertained. And they don’t expect to be in a situation where their lives are at risk.”

The safety board said it is currently investigating 11 air show accidents. But Tuesday’s hearing was an overview — an effort to see if there was any common thread it should address.

The safety board focused on whether the Federal Aviation Administration should strengthen its oversight, whether show pilots should meet more rigorous medical standards because of the stresses of aerobatic flight, whether audiences should be further removed from planes performing stunts and whether the FAA should certify the show “air bosses,” who direct air operations during shows.

Told there was no certification for “air bosses,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said, “That disturbs me.” And several industry officials testified certification of air bosses is an area ripe for change.

I really have no stake in this issue. Just curious how laws change after rare-unpredictable-disasters.