After a fatal crash of a company airplane earlier this year, the manufacturer does an apparent 180 on low-level maneuvering.
After the crash of one its A5 light sport amphibious planes, Icon Aircraft has established a set of criteria for customers to consider before they begin to flirt with the terrain.
The letter from company founder and president Kirk Hawkins goes into detail about the procedures and steps to take before and during any low-level flight. Included in the preamble to the letter is the statement that the “Use of these guidelines is required for all internal, company‐related flight operations. However, the guidelines are suggestions for private flight operations of the Icon A5 outside of company business,” and continues with the suggestion that “Icon owners and operators are encouraged to learn and use these guidelines even when flying outside of an Icon-structured training program.”
From my perspective as a lifelong proponent of conservative safety practices, I couldn’t help but been encouraged by Icon's publication of this letter and its openness in providing an early heads up to aviation journalists that it was issuing such guidance.
While Icon has not said in so many words that it previously had a culture of safety that failed to discourage and, in fact, seemed to promote high-energy, low-level maneuvering flight, this letter seems a tacit admission of that fact. For years in its marketing materials, the company has shown the A5 being flown at low level, close to the water and below the level of the surrounding terrain.
I won’t go much into the content of the letter, except to say that it includes a lot of very well thought out and conservative guidance on low-level flight, including the critical observation that “...when in the low altitude environment, the PIC should shift a significant portion of their attention to terrain and obstacle avoidance (like towers, power lines, etc.) while also maneuvering more benignly.”
We’re all saddened at the crash that claimed the lives of two Icon employees, as we’re saddened with every such loss in our small segment of aviation. As always, the hope is that we can learn lessons from such events to guide us all to safer flying. But it’s not just that. It’s my hope that such losses can guide us to a better understanding of the essential nature of risk itself and to clearer knowledge of how we as pilots look at safety and risk and evaluate our exposure to it.
Icon's example with this smart and realistic letter is an admirable attempt to do just that.
The company has not yet responded to a request for comments on this story. We will update it when they do.