AVweb

« Back to Full Story

Summer Safety Numbers: Can't We Do Better?

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day this year, 158 pilots and passengers died in 94 general aviation accidents. Those are the preliminary numbers from the NTSB, posted online last week. That rate has been pretty much the same over the last few years, the NTSB says. Earl Weener, a pilot who serves on the safety board, says we can do better.

Improving those numbers doesn't necessarily require new regulations or updated equipment, he says. "GA pilots largely determine their personal safety by the level of proficiency they maintain, the capability and condition of the aircraft they fly, and the manner in which they identify and manage their risks," he says. I think the key part is how pilots calculate risk. If you're someone who is constantly calculating risk, you will by nature ensure that your proficiency is up and the aircraft is safe.

Calculating risk doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as minimizing risk. It means weighing all the factors, all the pros and cons, and determining if the goal justifies the chances you're taking. It doesn't mean to do what you can to eliminate obvious risks and then hope for the best. That's a popular strategy, but it's not really analytical enough.

Of course one of the annoying things about estimating risk is that it often involves trying to predict the future, and that's something we're not very good at. Will those thunderstorms really develop? Will the icing be worse than predicted? There's no way to know for sure, so we try to construct a worst-case scenario and judge the risk based on that.

Until we figure out how to predict the future, we'll always be dealing with the uncertainties of flying. "Improving GA safety mostly means doing the things that we do as GA pilots, but doing them better, more safely, more thoughtfully, and with a better understanding of the situation and the risks," says Weener. I would add that paying attention to exactly how we analyze and calculate our risks is key.

Next week we'll be at AOPA's Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn., and issues about GA safety, and training, and how to attract new pilots are sure to get lots of discussion. If general aviation gives off a smell of danger to newcomers, that's going to scare a lot of them away. But if we can do a better job of teaching pilots how to calculate risk, maybe that will help.

Comments (55)

If you remove the true high-risk aircraft (agricultural, experimental, powered parachutes, ultralights, antiques, Alaska, students), the fatalities are quite small. GA pilots flying certified aircraft on pleasure flights are not the bulk of the fatalities.

AOPA is exaggerating the risk in basic GA flying.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Iss this Mary Grady's article? It doesn't list a name.

Posted by: Susan Simmons | September 21, 2011 9:20 AM    Report this comment

The problem is that although we know how to evaluate the condition of the aircraft, the fuel, and the weather, most people are not good at evaluating the condition of the nut behind the yoke. If we just had a "fatigometer" to objectively measure how tired we are, we'd probably eliminate most fatalities in the air and on the ground.

Tired people cannot make decent decisions, including the decision not to fly.

Posted by: Brad Koehn | September 21, 2011 10:02 AM    Report this comment

Mark, please post the stats supporting your statement. Thanks

Posted by: Jay Manor | September 21, 2011 10:16 AM    Report this comment

Sadly, I don't agree with Mark's comment above. I think the numbers reported were only for Part 91 operations (excluding Part 137). It would have been helpful for the NTSB to provide a backup for the numbers reported. The number of fatalities in Alaska under Part 91 are about 10% of the total quoted. The majority of the fatal Part 91 accidents over the summer did not involve amateur built aircraft or ultralights, and most of the aircraft were being operated for personal than for instructional purposes.

Posted by: David Looper | September 21, 2011 10:20 AM    Report this comment

Jay, read the NTSB reports for the months. That's what I did. To avoid confusion, I defined antique aircraft just the same way that the FAA does (aircraft 30 years old or older).

Read the reports yourself and, as I said, the bulk of the accidents are not in current certified aircraft with current certified pilots on Part 91 pleasure flights.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 11:10 AM    Report this comment

From the NTSB database, I did a quick search between the period from 01/01/2011 to 09/21/2011, United States, Part 91, Airplane, Fatal, this is what I found:

Total Fatal: 283 Total Serious: 21

Fatal (IMC): 48 Fatal (VMC): 206 Fatal (Unspecified Wx): 29

Fatal (Amateur Built): 42 Fatal (Non-amateur Build): 241

Fatal (Reciprocating Engine): 234 Fatal (Turbo Fan/Jet/Prop Engine): 24 Fatal (Unspecified Engine): 25

Fatal Injuries Due To... Air Race/Show: 3 Business: 4 Ferry: 2 Flight Test: 9 Glider Tow: 2 Instructional: 17 Other Work Use: 3 Personal: 226 Positioning: 7 Unknown: 10

Today is day 264 of 2011. Basically, we're losing 1.07 lives per day due to Part 91 operations with airplanes.

Most of the fatal accidents are in VMC, reciprocating engine, non-amateur built, airplanes, operated for personal purposes. IMHO, we need to do much, much better.

Posted by: William Wang | September 21, 2011 11:49 AM    Report this comment

William, I stand by my count. Just look at fatalities for June 2001 alone for fixed wing in the USA:

Antique = 14 Experimental = 9 Ag/AK = 3 Certified/non-antique = 2

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Sorry, that's June 2011.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 1:01 PM    Report this comment

Mark, I wasn't challenging your numbers since there were no numbers provided by your posts. However, it's hardly statically significant to base a theory on a single month of activity from 10 years ago. Feel free to do the same exercise for 2001 and share it with us if you like. I'm interested.

I simply wanted to point out numbers for *this year* only. And they seem to disagree with your assessment. But my post was not about you. It was about the data and the picture it paints. It's no secret what's causing the accidents. And it's no secret how we can fix it. We keep dancing around this same statistical trend year after year after year and talk year after year after year about various ways to reduce these numbers. Yet we fail, year after year after year. This problem is not solvable. However, I believe it can be bred out over time with quality flight training and due diligence on who we sign off, and when we sign pilots off.

Posted by: William Wang | September 21, 2011 1:17 PM    Report this comment

Yes, sorry about the typo, I was looking at this year and mis-typed. Point being is that older and experimental aircraft ARE the bulk of aircraft type involved in the accidents. That needs further investigation. As far a "pilot error", I don't believe that even Darwin has been able to "bred out" over time (so I doubt if CFI's actually can).

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 1:31 PM    Report this comment

The 2011 data does not support your position as amateur types represent a small data set. Feel free to analyze the data yourself. If you have an e-mail, I can e-mail you the spreadsheet as downloaded this morning from NTSB based on the criterion I specified in my 1st post. Just eye balling the data, I see a lot of Beech, Cessna, Piper, and with some scattering from Cirrus, Mooney, Maul, and Taylorcraft; all are type certificated airplanes.

I agree that Darwin alone won't be able to breed out the problem. But if we stopped giving away pilot certificates like scuba certificates, it'll help significantly.

Posted by: William Wang | September 21, 2011 2:00 PM    Report this comment

William, you'll need to take the time to read the reports, the basic "searches" do not let you find all the home-built nor antiques. Also I'd recommend limiting to the USA. As said, many of those Pipers and Cessna are now older than the pilots..

Pilot certificates are not being "handed out". If anything the basic SEL rating now takes almost 60 hours because CFI's and flight schools are already hyper-sensitive to lawsuits.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 2:26 PM    Report this comment

This is where I bow out of this discussion. The data I got this morning was spelled out in my original post, which limits to only USA. And if you think the national average of 60-70 hours is "enough" to qualify for a pilot certificate, I guess you're right, we will never be able to breed out the problem.

Posted by: William Wang | September 21, 2011 2:32 PM    Report this comment

The record may not change much until we change the culture and expectations. Most of the airplanes flown today were built to provide transportation in competition with the airlines that were flying DC-3s. And the airlines at that time were a pretty dangerous way to go and no faster than a Bonanza.

But the airlines changed their ways and equipment and the business guys followed along; all quite successfully. That left the small guys still flying DC-3 competitors.

I think it would help if we could change the primary culture from one of transportation to one of recreation, on good days, in slower moving aircraft, it might help. I know a lot people will say, "but you can travel on a schedule in an IFR 172 safely", and you can, but it seems to take more disipline and thought than most people are capable of. Rather it might be better to put most people (and most people do not really need to be anywhere on a schedule)in a small Light Sport type airplane, in good weather, and tell them they will die if they buzz the neighbors house or come within 1000' of a cloud.

It would help to change the culture of airplane design also. It would be possible to design the small airplanes to be more crash survivable and more tolerant of pilot error (we're starting to see some of that, Cirrus I think, is leading but the progress is very slow across the spectrum of GA).

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | September 21, 2011 2:51 PM    Report this comment

Mark and William, I'd would love to see the raw data that you guys are debating. If either one of you would be willing to send me your spreadsheet (and note your data sources), I would appreciate it (georgevh@usnr.com). In the meantime, I would point out that, if a high proportion of Part 91 accidents are happening in older airplanes, that is probably because older airplanes make up the vast majority of the GA fleet.

According to the latest "Statistical Databook & Industry Outlook" published by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (http://www.gama.aero/files/GAMA_DATABOOK_2011_web.pdf), the average GA piston single is 42 years old and the average GA piston twin in 41 years old.

Posted by: george van hoomissen | September 21, 2011 2:52 PM    Report this comment

I'll bite. How does your search data demonstrate that we need more than 70 hours for a SEL rating?

That is what I fear from organizations like AOPA and the FAA. That they to do some raw number search and then recommend more "training". If you read the reports, lack of training is rarely mentioned.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

"that is probably because older airplanes make up the vast majority of the GA fleet."

Thanks George! That is exactly correct. Correlation does not imply causation. Getting to the real cause of fatal accidents goes beyond looking at numbers. The accidents are as unique as the pilots and situations involved.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 3:18 PM    Report this comment

Mark, accident data clearly indicate year over year that approximately 70% of all accidents are due to pilot error. About 15-18% is a result of maintenance/mechanical failures.

I never said the NTSB data implies an increase in flight training hours is required to reduce accident rates. I have seen 35 hour pilots who I'd fly with any day. And I have seen 1000 hour pilots whom I won't fly with unless the plane has dual controls and I have a tazer. IMHO, quality flight training is the key to reducing these accident rates.

And you should fear AOPA because they're a shady organization. AOPA will never say "lack of training" because their whole organization relies on membership. It's kind of hard to get members when regulations makes it harder to get a pilot's certificate. They're the first to scream when proposals to increase training requirements come up. They have their own agendas. Without members, AOPA is nothing. As for the "reports", lack of training is implied when you see the break down of where pilots kill themselves. Most fatal accidents are completely avoidable. And the FAA has repeatedly provided the tools to the pilot population to prevent them. But...people are lazy, and they get complacent...and they die. It's that simple.

Posted by: William Wang | September 21, 2011 3:42 PM    Report this comment

"I have seen 35 hour pilots who I'd fly with any day. And I have seen 1000 hour pilots whom I won't fly with"

I agree completely. It's the INDIVIDUAL, not the level of experience. It's the lazy, dumb, and risky PERSONALITY that is dangerous, not the logbook hours or endorsements.

I have NO IDEA how to prevent accidents since I understand that Aviation is open to anyone with a checkbook. All I can say is that I have 3,000 hours and only maybe 40 hours of dual. More formal instruction won't make ME better or guarantee a non-fatality.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 21, 2011 7:06 PM    Report this comment

Occasionally you do read of an accident where someone comments that the pilot was known to be deficient in the specific area that caused the accident.

In cases like that, yes, additional training could have helped, but generally this isn't the case with newly minted pilots. Hard to see that simply increasing training hours would help. Training on what? How much would it help to continue doing the same training exercises over & over?

The fact that Part 91 accidents have not really changed by huge percentages over decades would seem to indicate we may already be at the dreaded "point of diminishing returns".

Posted by: John Wilson | September 21, 2011 7:53 PM    Report this comment

So the whack-a-mole pop-up for some inquiring minds this time is now the pilot's risk assessment skills? Interesting topic as the Reno tragedy is still fresh.

No evidence was given in the blog that pilot's are NOT 'doing the things that we do as GA pilots' to the best of our ability. The implication is that many are not. Really? A similar looking plastic license and similar number of logbook hours does not equate similar levels of awareness. It just could be that everyone was trying their best-day best with every accident flight, who's to say? A better approach in my opinion would be to attempt to teach pilots acceptance of personal limitations, but I'll probably see flying pigs announce that success.

We either allow individuality with all of its variance and shortcomings or go military/airline/regulations on GA for a better accident rate. I vote for the individual.

Posted by: David Miller | September 22, 2011 12:53 AM    Report this comment

Way to go Dave. I also cast my vote for the individual and accept the risks that come with that vote. The hand wringing will not improve accident rates!

Posted by: Brad Vaught | September 22, 2011 8:39 AM    Report this comment

Well put, John. We are at the point of diminishing returns where huge initiatives have little effect. It's now(like Dave said) down to where the individual makes the difference, not the process.

To answer the main question of "can we do better", the answer is no. Unfortunately the alphabets don't like that they have reached their own limits.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 22, 2011 9:08 AM    Report this comment

It seems to me, reading the odd NTSB reports that the major cause of accidents is what I might describe as lack of situational awareness. This covers a multitude of sins, from flying too slow in the pattern to commiting aviation when conditions are worse than what the errant pilot is competent to fly in. Scud running seems to be fairly high on the list, as are other weather related accidents, particularly CFIT which is really inexcusable when everyone has a GPS to tell them where the hills are. A large number of pilots also seem to be unable to fly a plane to a safe landing when the engine stops, that is an area where more training might reduce fatalities.

Posted by: David Tanner | September 22, 2011 9:13 AM    Report this comment

David, The problem is not knowing where the hills are, but respecting the hills coupled with smart aero-decision making skills. I live at the base of the Windriver Mountains. We have had 4 fatal crashes around here in the last 9 months or so. One was very notable, with three children suffering for the sins of the father. There was no reason to be up in the air or to try a direct route over the hills for all these flights. Just because you canít see the mountain wave, doesnít mean it is not there. How do you get pilots to understand and respect powerful forces that they have only read about? The learning curve in the actual experience is very steep.

Posted by: Scott Rupp | September 22, 2011 10:42 AM    Report this comment

I have to agree with Mark. The very stable accident rate over the last decade is very telling, especially since the hand wringing over risk management and improved decision making has been going on for years with no significant improvement other than statistical variance. I think we are where we are. For example, some pilots will have a tendency to make bone headed decisions. That has always been the case and greater education or regulation will not elimnate poor judgement. We are stuck with that. The 80 hour VFR pilot that takes off in 800 and 2 does not do it because he or she lacked training on the dangers of VFR into IMC. Their last thought is probably not "I wish I had much more training so I would have known that flying off in IFR conditions without a rating and training was such a bad idea. If I had only known..." There will always be these cases. We cannot legislate against idiocy.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 22, 2011 12:37 PM    Report this comment

(Continued) Another factor is the age of the fleet. As planes become older, the risks of various mechanical issues (engine failures, instrument failures, old wiring shorting out, metal fatigue and control failures)goes up, not down. I do not care how well trained a pilot is, an engine failure or a cockpit fire due to an electrical short are very real emergencies where the outcome depends on luck as well as skill. An engine failure at 300 feet just off the end of the runway at an urban airport does not offer many good options. The outcome is not likely to be favorable even with Chuck Teager at the controls. That is simply the risk we take when we go flying in (old)contraptions with so many single points of failure. Apart from the fact that this risk exists even with new planes, the older the plane, the greater the risk. Simple common sense. In other words, I think the statistics show that we are doing as good a job as a group as we can but it would take a huge investment to move the needle even a tiny amount and who, exactly, is going to foot the bill for that incremental improvement anyway? For example, should we mandate six month training proficiency checks like the airlines? Should we life limit aircraft thereby forcing the majority of owners to scrap their birds for newer ones? Should we require monthly maintenance checks instead of an annual so we can try to catch problems earlier?

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 22, 2011 12:39 PM    Report this comment

You guys know this stuff better than I do, but I can't resist a comment about hours in the logbook. Pilot training is supposed to develop three attributes: (1) skills (2) knowledge (3) the right pilot attitude (a combination of take-charge confidence and almost-fearful respect for the responsibility of piloting an aircraft). We do a so-so job of testing for the first two attributes. (There are notable failures, like the Buffalo Colgan Air crash.) We do NOT test for the third attribute. Instead, we measure how much time was spent trying to acquire that attribute. This is not unique to aviation. Think of all the medical students tromping through hospitals, practicing "how to talk to a patient." Or student teachers, interns at major corporations, and so on. Mankind has yet to develop good tests for "the right stuff" in any occupation. Several people have commented about specific accident causes (scud running, ignoring a mountain wave, etc.) We are all taught about these hazards in ground school. If we're too insouciant to feel real fear of these hazards, we're just not mature enough to be pilots.

Posted by: John Schubert | September 22, 2011 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Sure we can do better. We take the pilot out of the loop. When airplanes are used as personal transportation, they should be operated almost like UAVs. Trust the equipment: it's much less likely to fail than the average pilot (and even than the well-above-average one).

As long as we keep thinking that flying "should" be a demonstration of exotic, hard-to-acquire, hard-to-maintain skills, we'll keep having to bury people who were just trying to get to their destination.

Think of flying like making music: it's fun to do it by hand, but unless you're one of a rare few, you'll get a better result by turning on the iPod than by trying to do it yourself.

Not that there's anything wrong with doing it by hand. It's fun! It's just not the right tool for someone trying to get to a business meeting.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | September 22, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

"Sure we can do better. We take the pilot out of the loop." Whoa! From what I've been reading lately, that is what Air France tried to do with the Airbus that went down in the Atlantic. Look what happened when the pilots were brought back into the loop. A bit of recurrent training might have done wonders in that situation. Conversly how well would an autopilot have done putting an airliner into the Hudson?

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 22, 2011 3:48 PM    Report this comment

Interesting comments. If you look at the Part 121 safety record,it is true that automation has made airliners much safer. Of course, that means that accidents like AF and Colgan will occur due to rustiness or being out of the loop but the overall rate has improved dramatically. You do not have to go back too many years when there used to be a few domestic major carrier accidents each year. Now there are often none. The correlation with the introduction of improved automation is not a coincidence in my opinion. But here is the rub -- what works for teh airlines does not necessarily work for GA. First, the vast majority of the GA fleet does not have a working wing leveler let alone automation that takes teh pilot out of the loop. The cost of retrofitting would exceed the hull value of most of these planes. Never going to happen. Most new planes have them but their anemic sales demonstrates the ability of teh GA pilot population to afford such things. Second, airline pilots are trained heavily and recurrently on the use of these systems and failure modes. They also fly every day. I doubt most GA pilots will be able to be as proficient in teh use of these systems and that is why we see so many accidents in planes like the Cirrus that are supposed to be safer in theory because of the automation.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | September 22, 2011 5:19 PM    Report this comment

Quoting: Ken Appleby:

"Another factor is the age of the fleet... That is simply the risk we take when we go flying in (old)contraptions with so many single points of failure. .... the older the plane, the greater the risk."

I guess you haven't looked at the AOPA accident data compilations Ken, accidents due to mechanical failures, in our average 40 year old fleet, are far exceeded by the "Pilot error" category.

"Should we life limit aircraft .... Should we require monthly maintenance checks instead of an annual so we can try to catch problems earlier?"

NO and NO!! You obviously have not heard of the Military's maintenance strategy. Every time you take something apart to inspect it you are inviting human error in reassembly that could result in in a fatality. Niether of these would improve our accident rate by any measurable quantity.

Posted by: Dean Psiropoulos | September 22, 2011 8:03 PM    Report this comment

In a similar thread I asked why not take the existing Wings computer based training modules and require say completing six hours of online training per year. They are already there and are tailored to recurrent training on the biggest risks to the GA community. I also pondered the threat to our privileges the next time a GA plane is involved in a mid air or runway incursion with a commercial airliner. We should all be committed to measurable improvement as a fleet annually.

Posted by: BILL ELLISON | September 22, 2011 9:15 PM    Report this comment

Richard,

Yes, if you take the pilot out, there will be accidents that a proficient pilot could have prevented.

But far more accidents are already happening because pilots aren't proficient enough. Decades of preaching haven't fixed this, and won't.

Accepting a small number of accidents because the machine is doing the flying, versus a large number of accidents because the passenger (sic) is doing the flying, is a win.

However, it's not just automation. It's also airplane design. Historically, airplanes have offered access to the full flight envelope. Most people have no business in the corners of the envelope. Cirrus made a half-hearted attempt to keep them away from the "stall" corner, but clearly that didn't work - people stall Cirri.

I don't want to take a lot of space here, but consider that most airplane operations require only a small number of aircraft configurations - taxi, takeoff, cruise, climb, descend, loiter/traffic pattern, land - but that our control systems provide access to an infinity of configurations - many of them dangerous.

What's more, that infinity of configurations makes our airplanes really, really hard for most people to operate. Those of us who fly think it's easy, but for the average "I just want to go somewhere" person, it's ridiculously, excessively difficult. If GA is going to be popular, that's one thing that really will have to be addressed.

The other, of course, is cost. But that's not the topic of this thread.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | September 23, 2011 7:48 AM    Report this comment

"our control systems provide access to an infinity of configurations - many of them dangerous. "

Pure nonsense. Some people still find ways to have fatal accidents just starting the engine. Limiting control function does no good for people who intentionally fly into thunderstorms, VFR into IMC, or simply fly off the end of the runway on a hot day. Automation is clueless about mountain waves or even basic mechanical issues.

If you just want to get there, take a bus.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2011 10:20 AM    Report this comment

William Wang points the finger at pilot training/ease of obtaining a certificate. As a current student pilot, I will take exception to that, no one is rushing forward to hand me a certificate, in fact most days it seems there is a mandate to make getting that certificate nearly impossible. That said, an analysis of the accident statistics will show that the bulk of the accidents, fatal or not, occur with pilots having 300+ hours, often to professionals or retired professionals with thousands of hours, and not infrequently to CFI's.

Laziness, overconfidence, complacency, and arrogance. You can't educate away any of those, in fact, quite often the more training someone has the more confident they are and the more complacent they become.

Flying IS an inherently dangerous activity. So is motorcycle riding. You don't see the motorcycle user groups engaging in this kind of hand-wringing, rather, they mourn their fallen brothers, forgive them their foibles, and continue to advocate for the right of their members to kill themselves in the manner of their choosing, including foregoing basic safety equipment (helmets).

Sometimes a "crisis" exists primarily to serve the interests of those who can solve the problem. This is one case in which I question if the problem exists mostly within the FAA air safety bureaucracy whose budget and staffing depends on having a problem to solve, and the experts whose profile rises with every interview and to whom will flow the dollars.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | September 23, 2011 10:20 AM    Report this comment

no matter what the numbers are we always can find ways to improve upon our safety until that number reaches zero.

Posted by: MIKE SULLIVAN | September 23, 2011 11:18 AM    Report this comment

"we always can find ways to improve upon our safety until that number reaches zero". That's a great sound bite for a politician or someone who stands to benefit from a big safety push, but is it realistic? The airlines and the federal government spend billions trying to reach zero, and fail. The military weeds out all except for a small percentage of pilot applicants, spends billions on training and the best technology and equipment, and still lose a/c to pilot error and mechanical failure. Is it really realistic to think GA can shoot for zero? Is it realistic to add layers of regulation and cost for infinitesimal improvement? Sure, we all feel bad when pilots and passengers die, but in looking at the problem, we have to think, not feel.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | September 23, 2011 11:28 AM    Report this comment

The beginning comments referred to accident total numbers which makes some sense but when you start to categorize I.E Antique, home built, etc. then rates are a much more useful measure.

Posted by: GENNARO AVOLIO | September 23, 2011 11:57 AM    Report this comment

no matter what the numbers are we always can find ways to improve upon our safety until that number reaches zero.>

Then you better be ready for more government mandates, less experimentation and creativity in aircraft design, fewer challenging airports, and less flying due to weather, among countless other factors. That elephant over your shoulder just might be, as Mark C. alluded to, the continued funding of safety groups and FAA budget concerns.

It really is strange to me to hear pilots who know all the complexities of flying in weather, with old, maintainance-unknown rental aircraft, and with even a basic understanding of the complex human condition, have the opinion that all risk can be mitigated in GA flying. Actually, for me the larger question is similar to my concerns for fellow drivers on the road. I can only be responsible for myself to my best awareness - and I learn something new constantly if I'm paying attention about driving - but, the other drivers have that same responsibility. There are drivers and there are drivers. So it goes too for pilots.

No, I really think there is a certain reaction going on to the public's perception of flying that is driving alot of this risk assessment discussion, and it's the wrong approach. We should be educating aggressively anyone or group who has an unrealistic fear or concept of GA flying to its reality in the modern world, not reacting almost fearfully to their ignorance.

Posted by: David Miller | September 23, 2011 1:26 PM    Report this comment

Mr. D. Miller, the public gets its information from the media. And the media reports any airplane crash these days. With the advent of social media, that information travels very fast. The public isn't interested in what a handful of pilots preach as "unrealistic fears". They see the media, and they believe it. After all, how can you refute a smoking hole with charred dead bodies? It's physically there. There are photos everywhere on the Internet. Kind of hard to convince someone it's "unrealistic" to fear flying. We're on this side of the fence that (more or less) understand the risks and fears and we qualify them as unrealistic, and I agree with you. But on the other side of the fence, the thinking is quite different.

While I agree that no risk can be fully eliminated, they can be mitigated a good deal; especially when the risks are obvious to all but the pilot who created that hole. So I rest upon my original position that:

1. The FAA has provided all the tools to the pilot population to help mitigate/eliminate the known risks which continues to kill people. 2. Quality flight training (cognitive, affective, and psycho-motor) is key.

With respect to aging airplanes, if the airplane is old, if the rental airplane is questionable, why are you flying it? We as a pilot population need to do better than what we are currently doing, IMHO. But there are those of us who think 300+ dead bodies a year is acceptable...until it's their kid in the smoking hole.

Posted by: William Wang | September 23, 2011 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Wang. The sky is not falling (regardless of what the media says). Reality is that 99.9% of civil pilots who achieve a SEL rating do not die in their plane. We'll die from diseases, old age, or jealous husbands.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 23, 2011 3:16 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Fraser, I never said the sky's falling. I said there are ways we can do better.

Posted by: William Wang | September 23, 2011 3:26 PM    Report this comment

Saying that we can do better and being overly critical of what we are presently doing does nothing to improve the public perception, it rather does the opposite, it feeds the beast. The fact is, we can't do much better without wasting a lot of resources, and the appropriate response from pilots and the organizations representing them is "we do a really good job with training and safety but sometimes (stuff) happens". The point needs to be made that the problem is not with GA, it's that problems happen which sometimes turn into tragedies, and yes, there are a few reckless pilots just like there are a few reckless drivers, and it's nearly impossible to identify many of them until after they cause a problem.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | September 23, 2011 3:40 PM    Report this comment

Well, actually you said a bit more than that, William. I don't disagree with your 2 original points at all. I'm also sure that no amount of education or persuasion will convince a certain percentage of the public that the 'smoking hole with charred dead bodies' is a very rare occurance in aviation. So was the old drivers ed. movie Signal 30 we saw as 16 yr. old newbie drivers meant to scare us upright. But we later grabbed the keys to the car and hit the road. It's futile to appeal to or influence those without any objectivity of life's risks in living. But your assumption they are the majority, if that is my correct interpretation, I don't accept.

With due respect, you seem to be falling into the same state of helplessness in objectivity as you claim the public is paralyzed by with your use of 'smoking holes with our kids' charred dead bodies', and, using the wrongminded assumption that some of us think 300 dead bodies a year is acceptable, when none of us think that. That is playing upon one's emotions and should not be part of our discussion as pilots.

My experience teaches me that people in general look for assurance and information from reliable sources in things they have doubts or fears of. My position is that is where the focus should be, by the alphabets and we pilots individually at any opportunity we have to clarify and put in proper perspective the risks and integration of GA flying to the non-flying public.

Posted by: David Miller | September 23, 2011 3:45 PM    Report this comment

Btw good luck on your studies for your license, Mark C. We need all the thoughtful pilots we can get.

Posted by: David Miller | September 23, 2011 3:45 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Consigny, I have walked away from students whom over time demonstrated consistent hazardous attitudes with no desire to recognize and change them. There are 400 million potential customers in this country. I don't feel the need to push through a risk taker. And to your point, GA is not problem free. I've seen pilots make some very bad decisions. Some of them lived, some didn't. All of which were completely avoidable.

Posted by: William Wang | September 23, 2011 3:48 PM    Report this comment

I admit to being somewhat bitter about the fact that my flying days are probably over. Still, I cannot help but see that, especially after FAA's mission no longer included "promoting" the use of our airspace, FAA has done all it can to reduce flying: draconian ADs, TFRs, increases in required flight training hours, mandatory drug testing for charitable flights, etc. EPA, and TSA have also pitched in to help kill recreational flying. Massive increases in insurance, hangar, fuel, and maintenance also join in to do two things: Limit growth in the industry, and Limit the number of hours pilots can afford to fly. All of this has an adverse effect on pilot proficiency. All of this inevitable contributes to the accident rate. There will, as long as general aviation exists, always be boneheaded pilots, and there will also always be lawyers who want to ensure there is no future for general aviation.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 23, 2011 9:54 PM    Report this comment

"I said there are ways we can do better."

Mr. Wang. As said above, we are at a point of diminishing returns. Short of shutting down the whole system, there are no ways to make it better.

Personally I'm offended when people want to re-train the entire fleet because a few yahoos find ways to kill themselves. The vast majority of pilots are safe and don't need to be saddled with "more" because of the few are not safe.

I'm tired of over-regulation of the masses just to address the very few that are a problem. The system works. Idiots will always fail. Thinking we're not doing enough is misguided, wrong, and basically ignorant.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 24, 2011 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Mark Consigny said, "Flying IS an inherently dangerous activity."

Why do you say that Mark? Certainly some types of flying are more dangerous than others, for example being an experimental test pilot, flying fighters, agricultural application, or flying almost any kind of helicopter.

But there is nothing inherently dangerous about the type of flying the vast majority of GA and airline pilots do. It requires training, good judgement, a degree of hand-eye coordination, and the ability to think in three-dimensions, but it's not inherently dangerous.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 25, 2011 3:22 PM    Report this comment

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect."

Read the NTSB reports. It's incredible how many people lack judgement. It's that lack of judgement that kills people; it's that lack of judgement that NO training classes can fix.

My philosophy: Never do anything that would look stupid on an NTSB report.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 25, 2011 7:18 PM    Report this comment

Flying is inherently dangerous. First, most GA a/c in use are not built for survivability in a crash, especially because safety equipment adds weight. Second, even a well-executed emergency landing carries a high degree of risk, that cornfield that looks perfect from 1000' could have a ditch right across the middle that makes a mess of an otherwise good rollout. Night emergencies are even worse - go for the dark area and hope it's not an oak grove, go for the highway and hope there are no crossing wires or unlighted bridges, realize that unless you can glide to a lighted airport your odds are poor.

Posted by: Mark Consigny | September 26, 2011 8:38 AM    Report this comment

Mark Consigny said, "Flying is inherently dangerous."

Pshaw! Flying is unforgiving, but not inherently dangerous.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 26, 2011 9:18 PM    Report this comment

Skateboarding, bike riding, taking a bath, drinking, one-night-stands, all have risks. Singling out "flying" as dangerous ignores the fact that every human activity has risks(if you don't believe me then just have a look at the warning labels on everyday items). We have more safety information in flying than we've ever had: GPS, XM weather, Geo-referenced approach plates, and uncounted on-line flight aids. There comes a point (we've reached) where there are no surprises in flying.

No we "can't" make it better (safer) by adding even more training or gizmos; the latest safety stats testify to that.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 27, 2011 7:28 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?

Register

Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration

« Back to Full Story