The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a hearing at their headquarters on Tuesday in Washington D.C. to discuss the safety of air shows and air races. The hearing was held to discuss whether the safety standards and requirements that are already in place are enough to prevent tragedies like the fatal crash that occurred last September at the Reno Air Races, when stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward crashed his World War II-era plane in front of the VIP section of the grandstands, killing himself and 10 other people. Around 70 people were also badly injured in the tragedy.
Witnesses from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as well as those from private aviation organizations were called upon to discuss the safety oversight if air shows, air races, planes and pilots. The consensus in the room was that current safety regulations are enough to protect air show and air race spectators and performers. "At this point, I'm not aware of any changes - at least any significant or substantive changes - to the policy and guidance we have in place," said deputy director of the FAA John McGraw. After the Reno crash, the FAA separated the regulatory practices of air shows, where performers perform aerobatic stunts, and air races, where pilots race in proximity to other planes at low elevations reaching speeds of up to 700 miles per hour.
The NTSB held Tuesday's hearing because in addition to the Reno Air Race crash, five air show performers were also killed last year. The agency was particularly interested in discussing whether spectators at these events should be moved farther away from potential danger and whether flight directors at events should be regulated. NTSB officials were surprised to find that "air bosses" - the people responsible for directing aircraft during air races and air shows - are not subject to any certification standards. Air bosses have a similar job to air-traffic controllers and yet are not subject to the same safety standards. "Performers are assuming a certain level of risk, said NTSB chair Deborah Hersman. "But when spectators come out to an event, they are coming to be entertained and they don't expect to be in a situation where their lives are at risk."