The National Transportation Safety Board is set to meet today to release a report on the effectiveness of airbags in mitigating injuries in survivable general aviation accidents. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, the report will examine 138 accidents in planes equipped with airbags and look specifically at several accidents in which an airbag may have been an important factor in ensuring the safety of the pilot or passengers.
General aviation aircraft includes almost all types of aircraft except for scheduled-airline-service airplanes and military aircraft. This includes single engine planes and private or corporate jets. The NTSB reports that during 2009, there were 1,474 accidents involving general aviation aircraft resulting in 474 deaths.
While most smaller aircraft manufactured after the introduction of the aviation airbags in 2004 are equipped with them, the vast majority of general aviation planes in use today were manufactured before 2004. The domestic manufacturer of aviation airbags has documented 20 cases where the airbags were crucial to the survival of a pilot or passenger, according the Chicago Tribune.
Airbags have been required in automobiles for years, and shoulder belts even longer. While the NTSB has recommended since 1970 that smaller planes have shoulder belts, the FAA has not yet required them. It appears likely that the NTSB will now also recommend that airbags be required in general aviation aircraft.
A summary of the study will be posted on the NTSB page after the board meeting today, and the full report will be made available in the upcoming weeks.
Source: Chicago Tribune - NTSB considers whether air bags, shoulder belts would save the lives of pilots, passengers Joan Lowy 11 Jan. 2011