|Hawker Hunter Vintage Jet (Model)|
That pivotal risk assessment document may well form an essential part of a complex long drawn out legal process if 'things go wrong' According to an interim report issued by the Air Accident Investigation Board [AAIB] the risk assessment for the Shoreham Air Show, where 11 people were killed last August, did not “show the range of hazards presented by different display aircraft” and had a “number of deficiencies”, the investigators declared.
The flight display director, who according to colleagues and others closely associated with the production and organisation of air shows, has many years of experience and had produced a number of safe and successful events.
The interim report however suggests he "was not aware of the manoeuvres that the pilot of the 1959 vintage Hawker Hunter aircraft was about to perform." In short he placed a great deal of trust in the professional expertise of the visiting pilots, who may have had to vary their display programmes according to the wind, visibility, storm and possibly tempest and often at the very last minute.
Simply some within the tightly-knit air show community will spring to the defence of those within air show circles and still possibly suggest there is little use for a risk assessment if the programme needs tweeking or wholesale change, due to a variety of factors.
The AAIB said there was evidence the same plane had a year earlier breached regulations at the air show (in 2014) without sanction, including 'conducting risky manoeuvres over the West Sussex town of Lancing'
The veteran aerobatic display pilot Andy Hill had no problem with the Hawker Hunter, the fuelling of the extra underwing slung 'drop tanks' and the flight from its base had been uneventful.
The fateful attempted loop ended with the stricken vintage cold war jet aircraft aiming for the relative safety of a wooded copse but impacting into and on the A27, killing 11 motorists and a number of spectators who lined the road for a free view of the aerial flying display on the other side of the perimeter spectators.
The pilot ejected at the last moment and although badly injured survived the crash.
Amateur video showed that most of its aerobatic stunts, including steeply banked turns, were in fact performed away from the airfield footprint and technically outside of the control of the air show organisers.
The Hawker Hunter “overflew residential areas along the A259 south of Shoreham airport several times and in one manoeuvre overflew the central area of the town of Lancing at an angle of bank in excess of 90 degrees” without anyone instructing the pilot to stop ........either these regulatory infringements were not detected by the display organisers or were not understood,” the interim report concluded.
An agency of the Health and Safety Executive commissioned by the AAIB to review the risk assessment found “a number of deficiencies compared to what would have been expected”.
The review said: “It is not clear that those who assessed the risks and recorded the assessment had a full understanding of the purpose of the risk assessment.”
Investigators require the Civil Aviation Authority to tighten up rules governing the authorising of aerobatic display programmes. It recommends minimum heights for flying are enforced.
For an interim report it is very detailed, and already calls for the scrapping all current exemptions, and backs it up with minimum distances from crowds should be extended to points where unofficial spectators congregate. Effectively the controlled area ON THE GROUND will in future extend beyond any perimeter fence. The rule of thumb being that if you can see the display from an unofficial vantage point beyond the perimeter( ie not paid for a ticket) it will have to be kept clear.
At Shoreham for example it was well known the embankment supporting the A27 was technically and practically outside the Shoreham airshow boundary, but everyone would have been aware and tolerated the situation that was 'a known viewing point'.
Emphasising the tight-knit community aspect, The AAIB also found that airshow pilots were often evaluated by people they knew well.
Andy Hill, 51, was signed off for the previous year’s show by a member of his own display team. The investigators recommended that the CAA require evaluators “to have no conflicts of interest in relation to the candidates”.
The AAIB has yet to deliver the final report into the causes of the tragedy, although the interim report said that the former RAF jet was “working normally and responding to the pilot’s controls”.
Early evidence showed as many observers at the time detected, the pilot started his manoeuvre at a 60-metre altitude, well below what experts have suggested is a safe minima.
The victims were aged from 23 to 76. The pilot being thrown clear of the cockpit still strapped in his seat after the impact.
Steps taken in the immediate aftermath of the disaster - such as banning ex-military jets from performing aerobatics over land - remain in place until the publication of a full air accident report into what caused the crash.
The CAA has warned that a number of air shows will not go ahead this year unless they adopt new safety measures.
The tightened rules include enhanced risk assessments and tougher checks on the experience, skill and health of pilots.
The regulator is also increasing its charges for air show organisers to fund the move, with larger displays facing a potential rise from £2,695 to more than £20,000.
CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said: "We understand that people care passionately about air shows and we want all events to be a success, but we are also very clear that we will not compromise on safety."
Supporters of air shows have urged the CAA to mitigate the impact of the new charges.
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