Are Simulator-Trained Pilots Really Safer?

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A special supplement to Mike Busch's article "Training at FlightSafety."

In 1986, FlightSafety International conducted a statistical study to compare the accident rates of piston-twin pilots who had trained with FlightSafety to those who had not. This study analyzed US-registered Cessna and Piper piston twin-engine aircraft that were involved in fatal accidents during the years 1983 and 1984. Cessna 337 (centerline-thrust) aircraft were excluded.

Out of a total population of 12,810 of these aircraft, there were 53 fatal accidents in the two years under study. In 89% of the accidents, the NTSB determined that "pilot error" was the primary cause or a major contributing factor. 38% of the accidents were due to improper IFR procedures or decision making. Engine failure with subsequent loss of control was the next most frequent cause, accounting for 13% of the accidents. The typical pilot involved in a fatal accident had an average total flight time of 3,225 hours with 420 hours in type. 69% held Commercial or ATP certificates. Four of the 53 fatal-accident pilots-in-command had more than 10,000 flight hours.

During the study period, 1,521 pilots attended FlightSafety to be trained in the Cessna and Piper piston twins under study. Statistically, a randomly-selected group of 1,521 piston-twin pilots would have been expected to include approximately six pilots who were involved in a fatal accident. But in fact, none of the 1,521 FlightSafety-trained pilots were involved in a fatal accident. (The probability of this occurring strictly by chance is less than one percent.)

This and other statistical studies show clearly that pilots who receive regular recurrent training have far lower accident rates than those who don't. Interestingly enough, the traditional belief that high-time pilots are safer does not seem to be supported by these studies.