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What the FAA has done to make sure air travel stays safe

New York residents may remember when a small plane crashed on the way to Florida in September of 2014. Last November, the U.S. News & World Report covered the release of the National Transportation and Safety Board's accident report for that crash. The report revealed the cause to be a design flaw that allowed an overheat switch to activate and cut off the air supply to the plane's cabin. Two occupants died in the accident.

Just before the NTSB's statement broke headlines, the Federal Aviation Authority had released a report of its own. Acknowledging the U.S. has the "largest and most diverse General Aviation community in the world," the FAA announced results of a drive to "put the right technologies, regulations, and education initiatives in place to improve safety."

The FAA's goal had been to reduce fatal aviation fatalities by 10 percent, so leaders had formed a steering committee. Thinking that more minds working together might better strategize, the FAA asked the committee to look for trends. What were the main causes of fatal airplane crashes? What were the main risk factors for commercial and privately owned planes? 

In answer to these questions, leaders sought to minimize risk through innovative technology, for one. Bolstering air traffic control systems with the help of satellite surveillance has since improved pilots' awareness of their surroundings and of their position in relation to those surroundings. 

Besides incorporating better technology, the FAA replaced "prescriptive requirements with performance-based standards." This decision alone allowed more flexibility in aircraft design and, in particular, gave small-plane engineers more options for integrating innovative safety components. In addition, owners of small aircraft gained access to Angle of Attack Indicators, a device previously reserved for commercial and military planes. The AOA provides warnings to help pilots avoid stalling or losing control while in flight.

On the educational front, the FAA launched initiatives to inform pilots and other aviation employees about safety practices in both planes and helicopters, as well as in dangerous weather conditions. By 2016, the FAA had reached its goals, decreasing accidents by 41 percent and accident rates by 57 percent.

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