Business Aviation Compliance With Pre Take-off Flight Control Checks

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) highlighted a number of important human performance issues in after a fatal Gulfstream G-IV N121JM business aircraft accident which occurred on 12 May 2014 at the joint civil/military Hanscom Field (BED) in Bedford, Massachusetts (final report).

Aerossurance has discussed that accident previously: Gulfstream G-IV Take Off Accident & Human Factors

This NTSB video illustrates the G-IV take off:

Wreckage (Credit: Boston Globe)

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was:

… the flight crewmembers’ failure to perform the flight control check before takeoff, their attempt to take off with the gust lock system engaged, and their delayed execution of a rejected takeoff after they became aware that the controls were locked.

Contributing to the accident were the flight crew’s habitual noncompliance with checklists, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation’s failure to ensure that the G-IV gust lock/throttle lever interlock system would prevent an attempted takeoff with the gust lock engaged, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to detect this inadequacy during the G-IV’s certification.

Aerossurance subsequently analysed a US Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin C-130J accident were a control check was omitted: C-130J Control Restriction Accident, Jalalabad

It is noteworthy that when the NTSB reviewed flight data from the aircraft’s Quick Access Recorder (QAR), they discovered that this flight crew had failed to perform complete flight control checks before 98% of their previous 175 take offs.  To the NTSB this indicated that this omission was “habitual”.  The NTSB describe this a procedural drift (a topic we have discussed in our recent article: ‘Procedural Drift’: Lynx CFIT in Afghanistan).

Among the NTSB recommendations was a recommendation to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA):

Work with existing business aviation flight operational quality assurance groups, such as the Corporate Flight Operational Quality Assurance Centerline Steering Committee [a Flight Safety Foundation initiated initiative], to analyze existing data for non-compliance with manufacturer-required routine flight control checks before takeoff and provide the results of this analysis to your members as part of your data-driven safety agenda for business aviation.

The NBAA has now published their analysis report: Business Aviation Compliance With Manufacturer-Required Flight-Control Checks Before Takeoff

The [FDM] data [analysed] shows that out of 143,756 flights conducted during the 2013 to 2015 time period, flight crews [only] conducted a partial flight-control check before takeoff (caution event) during 22,458 flights (15.62 percent). There was no flight-control check before takeoff (warning event) conducted on 2,923 flights (2.03 percent). For the three-year period covering 2013, 2014 and 2015, the overall noncompliance rate for manufacturer-required routine flight-control checks before takeoff was 17.66 percent, reflecting 25,381 events.

nbaa-pnc-data

After the accident on May 31, 2014, and the release of the preliminary report on June 13, 2014, the average warning event rate was reduced to 1.47 percent, a drop of 50 percent. That may indicate there was a positive reaction to the preliminary report finding that the Bedford crew did not perform any flight-control check before takeoff. The caution events are more variable, and there is not a significant difference in caution event rates between pre- and post-accident percentages.

This report to the NBAA membership is not only intended to provide closure action to the NTSB recommendation, but also to raise awareness to the broader business aviation community that complacency and lack of procedural discipline have no place in our profession.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen said:

As perplexing as it is that a highly experienced crew could attempt a takeoff with the gust lock engaged, the data also reveals similar challenges across a variety of aircraft and operators. This report should further raise awareness within the business aviation community that complacency and lack of procedural discipline have no place in our profession.

While this study helps us understand compliance in business aviation, it is certainly noticeable that FDM data is already available that can be used to identify such habitual practices inconsistent with procedures.

UPDATE 27 September 2016: Bizav ‘Has Long Way To Go on Safety,’ Says NBAA Chief at the 20th annual Bombardier Safety Standdown in Wichita. Commenting after the their pre-flight flight control check report of the Ed Bolden said:

We have to understand the data and then find some way to move from reactive to proactive. If there’s a challenge, then we need to find a mitigation strategy. It’s an important and noble pursuit.

UPDATE 24 October 2016: Execuflight Hawker 700 N237WR Akron Accident: Casual Compliance A disturbing accident after an unstabilised approach that begs serious questions of the operator’s procedures and culture.

UPDATE 30 October 2016: LOC-I Departure: AAIB Report on King Air 200 Accident

UPDATE 7 May 2017: We also look at another case of poor checklist use: Ground Collision Under Pressure: Challenger vs ATV: 1-0


Aerossurance is pleased to be sponsoring the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors‘ Human Factors in Aviation Safety conference at East Midlands Airport 7-8 November 2016.


Aerossurance has extensive air safety, aircraft certification and accident analysis experience.  If you charter or operate your own business aircraft, Aerossurance can provide assurance of those operation and advise on best practice.  Contact us at: enquiries@aerossurance.com