Aftermarket Safety Equipment

#FlySafe GA Safety Enhancement Topic

The installation and use of aftermarket safety equipment like shoulder harnesses, engine monitoring equipment, enhanced and synthetic vision systems, and angle of attack indicators, can significantly reduce the likelihood or severity of some general aviation (GA) accidents.

Aftermarket Safety Equipment Can Reduce the Likelihood or Severity of GA Accidents
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Content disclaimer: Products and services mentioned in this article, and/or external, non-FAA links within, do not constitute official endorsement on behalf of the FAA.

Many GA aircraft are limited to single-belt restraint systems, but adding shoulder belts can give you the best chance of sustaining minimal or no injury in many accident scenarios. Some of these systems also integrate inertia reels and rotary buckles with quick-disconnect release mechanisms. It’s fairly common to have this kind of equipment installed via a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for many older GA aircraft with single-belt restraints.

Airbag seat belts are another safety-enhancing option worthy of consideration. Several aircraft manufacturers now provide them as standard equipment, and there’s a growing aftermarket installation business for airbag seat belts. These systems are designed to deploy once a certain amount of consistent longitudinal deceleration is detected and to protect occupants from striking the glare shield, instrument panel, and control yoke.

A crash dummy hitting a seatbelt airbag during a text in a small airplane.
A crash dummy hitting a seatbelt airbag during a text in a small airplane.
AmSafe’s Seatbelt Airbag System (SOARS) is an example of an aftermarket lapbelt airbag restraint system, which is designed to mitigate head and torso injury in aircraft crash conditions. Photo courtesy AmSafe, Inc.

It’s also a good idea to be familiar with your seat belt system, especially if you install something new, as the latches could open left to right, or right to left. It may not seem like a big deal, but during an emergency, your ability to release a seat belt and exit the aircraft may be compromised by darkness, smoke, or injury. You may also find that some buckles are difficult or impossible to open under load. Using one hand on or under the seat can help take the strain off the buckle before releasing the latch.

Additional safety features suitable for GA airplanes are flight data monitoring and recording systems. Manufacturers offer self-contained flight data and visual data recorders that can record important flight parameters like heading, altitude, and airspeed, as well as track aircraft component life and wear. Most operators of this equipment must periodically download and analyze the recorded data — often with the aid of dedicated computer programs.

Screenshots of the GAARD app on an iPhone.
Screenshots of the GAARD app on an iPhone.
Screenshots of the GAARD app on an iPhone.

Smartphones with GPS and accelerometer functionality can also act as very capable flight data recorders. In a joint effort with the FAA, the MITRE Corporation developed the General Aviation Airborne Recording Device (GAARD). GAARD is an easy-to-use flight data recording app found on the App Store or Google Play for free and can be used on its own with your smartphone. Similarly, GAARD can also be integrated with an aircraft’s Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) or Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) system to capture additional parameters with greater fidelity.

In addition to providing useful graphing and mapping capabilities, GAARD enables pilots to upload flight data — with identifying data removed — to the National General Aviation Flight Information Database, or NGAFID. This data in turn feeds in to the FAA’s Aviation Safety Information and Analysis Sharing (ASIAS) system which analyzes data from different sources to proactively address safety issues.

Enhanced Vision (EV) systems use sensors on the aircraft to “see through” weather or darkness. While this sensor comes in a variety of forms, by far the most common is infrared (IR), which senses temperature differences and produces a high quality, real-time image of the outside scene. IR cameras are available for installation on GA airplanes, and their output can be displayed on multi-function displays. They are quite useful in depicting terrain in weather or on a dark night.

A word of caution — EV technology takes some getting used to. You’ll have to make the transition to visual reference at some point, and that can be a challenge.

Synthetic Vision (SV) is another option that tends to be more accessible in terms of cost and equipment. SV combines imagery from sensors and navigation systems to create a virtual view. This picture of the flight environment is overlaid with aircraft instrumentation and weather information to create a single image that contains all of the information necessary for safe flight operations.

An airplane on short final showing both synthetic and enhanced vision systems in use.
An airplane on short final showing both synthetic and enhanced vision systems in use. Photo by Robert Bowden

See the FAA Safety Briefing article “X-Ray Vision and Alphabet Soup — Decoding GA Vision Systems” (PDF) for a more complete description of EV and SV technology.

Although they have been used for years mainly on military aircraft, angle of attack (AOA) indicators have become increasingly popular on GA aircraft. This is mainly due to a 2014 FAA policy that simplified the design approval requirements for AOA indicators. As a result, this life-saving technology is showing up on more new aircraft and is available in a number of more affordable options for retrofit as well.

Angle of Attack indicators installed on GA aircraft.

Published in July 2016, the FAA’s Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy includes avionics, electronic instruments, displays, and mechanical equipment for 14 CFR parts 23, 27, and 29 aircraft. Equipment approved as NORSEE has a variety of uses, including:

  • Increasing overall situational awareness;
  • Providing information that is in addition to the aircraft primary system;
  • Providing independent cautionary or warning indications; and
  • Providing additional safety protections.

Equipment that could be considered NORSEE includes, but is not limited to, traffic advisory systems, terrain awareness and warning systems, attitude indicators, fire extinguishing systems, and autopilot or stability augmentation systems.

NORSEE does not bypass the existing certification processes or the current level of FAA oversight; approval is based on the idea that the addition offers safety benefits that outweigh the potential risks. NORSEE failure should not result in a reduction in safety. Remember that NORSEE is not meant to save your life if you are not proficient or well trained in flying an airplane.

You can find more information in the FAA NORSEE Policy Statement (PDF). The FAA also posts NORSEE approvals, which you can reference at any time. Maybe there’s something on this list you want to consider for your aircraft.

For more information on the benefits of aftermarket safety equipment, check out the May/June 2019 issue (PDF) of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. The issue focuses on the future of aircraft certification. Feature articles focus on the advent of performance-based aircraft certification standards for GA that are helping to usher in a new era of innovation and safety. Articles also cover what the changes to Part 23 mean to the future of the industry, as well as explore the benefits policies like NORSEE can have for existing aircraft owners.

The next, and most recent change in the aircraft certification landscape took place in August 2017 when the final rule overhauling airworthiness standards for GA airplanes took effect. The substantial overhaul of 14 CFR part 23 enables faster installation of innovative, safety-enhancing technologies into small airplanes, while reducing costs for the aviation industry. The performance-based standards approach in the rule recognizes that there is more than one way to deliver on safety, and it offers a way for industry and the FAA to collaborate on new and existing technologies and to keep pace with evolving aviation designs and concepts.

Many pilots are missing essential items on their checklists every time they fly because items from the flight manual supplements that come with aftermarket or optional equipment are not considered. For every piece of new equipment or modification to your aircraft, there could be a supplement to your flight manual. Creating your own checklist under 14 CFR part 91 is allowed. Watch this video to learn more.

Supplemental Checklists for Aftermarket Safety Equipment in 57 Seconds

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