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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, carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, 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

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.

Fasten Your Seat Belt

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.
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.

The Eyes Have It

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.

A New Angle on Safety

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.

Fighting Foul Gases

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially deadly threat to piston engine pilots. Between 1982 and 2020 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified 31 accidents with 42 fatalities that were attributed to CO poisoning. CO is tasteless, odorless, and invisible which means it cannot be identified without a detector. CO is dangerous because it bonds with the mechanism that transports oxygen from the lungs throughout the body effectively blocking that process and leading to hypoxia regardless of outside oxygen levels.

NORSEE approved CO detectors.

For years passive detectors offered some protection but relied on a pilot to scan them periodically. More modern active detectors feature alarms to alert pilots at the first intrusion of CO into the cockpit allowing them to take action to prevent a potentially fatal accident. Some modern CO detectors are now available to install under the aforementioned NORSEE policy. The FAA strongly encourages piston aircraft operators to install a CO detector where ever possible.

Supplemental Checklists

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i8l7Nup5Hw&list=PL5vHkqHi51DQdF_PXKQT7uJUPd4UzlxNS&index=15

Regulatory Roadblock Reduction in 57 Seconds

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVyWLm33gJ4&list=PL5vHkqHi51DQdF_PXKQT7uJUPd4UzlxNS&index=23

📅 FAASTeam Events (June/July 2022)

Click here to get this story and other safety enhancement topic fact sheets in a one-page PDF.
Click here to explore more safety enhancement topics on Medium.

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