Question edited for clarity, see below.

In 1998 NASA published the following:

"NASA's Aviation Safety Program: Making the Skies Safer The goal of the NASA Aviation Safety Program is to reduce the fatal aircraft accident rate by 80 percent in 10 years, and by 90 percent in two decades. The ambitious $500-million program is a partnership that includes NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aviation industry and the Department of Defense."

I am not sure if they have been successful. Is there any research being done into a complete safety system for light aircraft, from taxi out taxi in and engine shut down?

The goal of such a system the system is to protect the occupants of the vehicle through each phase of the flight. The aircraft configuration disuccsed is the typical 4 seater piston engined light aicraft.

The approach is a to assume that pilots will ake mistakes and need to have a second chance, provided through technology. Also, there should be a demarcation between accidents caused by error and those caused by negligence, and should be categorized and treated separately so as not to affect the accident record of genuinely safe pilots.

This question is somehwat related to

Would a roll cage plus a safety harness make a small GA aircraft accident more survivable?

Any aircraft goes through several phases of flight with its attendant risks. I have listed the risks along with some of the risk - reduction strategies for each phase. Pilot training is important, and should take place in parallel, but pilots cannot be made error-free, and technology should be able to protect them from the consequences (eg seat belts and air bags)

Take-Off run: Running off the runway Failure to stop after aborted take off

  • Proposed countermeasure: Backup braking systems Multi- wheel landing gear Anti-lock braking Retro - rockets for rapid braking Crash protected structure as in cars with air bags and seat belts Safety net at the end of the field as used in aircraft carriers in emergencies

Initial Climb: Engine failure on take off Loss of control - spiral dive Stall Stall and spin

  • Proposed countermeasure: Advanced engine diagnostics including audio analysis of engine Auto test of engines on start up Automated flight envelope protection Slatted wing for slower flight Stall - resistant wing Stall - resistant aircraft Anti- stall parachute

Cruising Flight: Engine Failure Loss of Control / Stall/ Spin/ Spiral dive/ dive

  • Proposed countermeasure: Advanced engine diagnostics including audio analysis of engine Auto test of engines Stall - resistant wing Automated flight envelope protection Whole aircraft parachute En route safe landing areas overlaying GPS map Automated emergency landing feature

Descent: Engine Failure in descent Loss of control

  • Proposed countermeasure: Same as above

Landing short of runway Overshooting runway Running off the runway Stalling on approach Hard landings/bouncing Braking failure on landing

  • Proposed countermeasure: Automated flight envelope protection Backup braking systems Slatted wing for slower flight Multi- wheel landing gear Anti-lock braking Retro - rockets for rapid braking

Update: NASA is adressing some of these issues in its safety program:


Edit: The first answer by jwenting applies to the first part of this question, ending here. Also, the few comments given have been also very helpful in answering the original question. However I accept the question is too broad.

I will have to break this question up into several questions later. For now, narrowing the question down to be more specific let me ask the following question:

There are several measures mentioned above in the many efforts underway to make light aircraft safer, such as flight envelope protection, parachutes, Leaving cost aside for the moment, are these measures sufficient to reduce the risk by a significant amount in all phases of flight or are there any areas that these researchers have missed, for example?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure where the question is here. You've listed some risks, but the set of all risks is effectively infinite. There are, of course, various ongoing efforts to improve safety. Some aircraft have certain safety features that are intended to address certain risks, but it's impossible to even enumerate every possible risk, let alone develop a specific countermeasure for all of them, and every new feature you add can increase risk as well (e.g. you add a parachute or airbag, what if there's an uncommanded deployment? or what if pilots take greater risks as a result of that feature?) $\endgroup$ Oct 14, 2016 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ To add to @ZachLipton good elements, dependency on a safety measure is itself a risk, e.g. locking the door of the flight deck as demonstrated in a Germanwings accident. You need to think risks and countermeasures as a compromise that you believe will be "positive enough" without costing too much. It's not different from drugs. Accidents in aviation are already at a very low level, and going further is likely a matter of increasing flight deck automation, a known risk by itself. If you think about it, it's the passenger who slows down safety by demanding prices always lower. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Oct 14, 2016 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ Addressing all of these would make GA aircraft magnitudes more expensive. Most of your "proposed solutions" (other than retro-rockets and multi-wheel gear) already exist for GA aircraft as an option. "Flight envelope" systems in the form of AoA indicators, advanced engine monitoring, ballistic recovery chutes, even passenger airbags. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Oct 14, 2016 at 11:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're asking here. There's always research going on into GA safety and as others have said, many of the solutions you've mentioned are already available in certain aircraft, e.g. Cirrus has a parachute, a stall-resistant wing and a 'panic button' to level the wings. But they still crash, often because pilots make bad decisions. If you can find some way to make your question more specific or limited you might get a better response. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Oct 14, 2016 at 12:58

1 Answer 1


As Zach says, it's impossible (and IMO not even desirable) to remove all risk.
Not only is the number of potential risks infinite, but the cost to counter even a small subset of them would be infinite as well.

Just one small example, from your list of proposals:
Say you fit a retrorocket that is supposed to stop the aircraft on an aborted takeoff if the pilot fails to apply the brakes.
Now, what if that retrorocket also fails? You'd need a backup for it, and a backup for the backup, ad infinitum. What if the retro fires and the kick is too much, injuring the pilot? So you'd need some way to shield the pilot from any impact at all, infinitely thick padding comes to mind. But what if the retros misfire and he veers off the runway into a drainage ditch, ends up under water? So he needs a breathing aparatus as well, with an infinite supply of air because you can not know how long it will be before rescue services arrive.

Not just would this be impossible to implement, but even if you could the aircraft would become infinitely large and infinitely expensive.

And as is shown time and again in human history, if you design systems to reduce risk, some people just get more reckless. When seatbelts were first introduced people started driving faster, especially taking corners at higher speeds, feeling invincible with their better protection. Not many people, certainly not most, but enough that accident statistics showed an increase in serious accidents with death or serious injury as a result. Same when airbags became mandatory.

Seems humans need some measure of inherent risk in activities, just to keep them from doing stupid things due to feeling invincible and able to get away with anything.


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