The NTSB says that during tomorrow’s hearing, it will be looking to industry leaders to give it a “deeper understanding of regulations” bearing on the operation of the nation’s air shows. Of course, the only regulatory body that has the authority to control air shows is the FAA. But what the Board will find — if it asks the right questions — is that for the most part, the industry regulates itself. According to one veteran air racer, Howie Keefe, the FAA is more or less “hands off” when it comes to air show safety. From Martha Bellisle’s article in the Reno Gazette-Journal:
Keefe said the industry is largely self-regulated because the pilots and engineers are the most qualified to determine whether another pilot can handle a certain race or course or whether a certain design can handle the stress of a trick or race. ‘The classes themselves can say yes or no to a person who wants to race — if they can’t do a roll, they can’t race,’ Keefe said. ‘The FAA can’t do that. We rely on the expertise of the people in the industry to make the decisions.’
Perhaps a “hands off” policy is fine for the participants. But not so much for the spectators, who expect that if the FAA approves an event, it is overseeing the event’s safety in some meaningful fashion, and not merely turning the reins over to the event sponsors.
This Board says that the purpose of tomorrow’s public hearing is to help it investigate future air show accidents. But this Board is more assertive than past boards. There’s little doubt that it will find the FAA’s oversight lacking. The question is whether it will do anything about it.