This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Dec. 2005.In aviation, perhaps more than with any other activity, there is really very little that's new and different when it comes to accident causes. If we fly only on calm, VFR days, pay excruciating attention to our training and proficiency, and operate only new airplanes with the best possible maintenance, we have a good chance at living long enough to know ahead of time which flight will be our last. The reality is that we often cut corners. Sometimes we're forced to fly in poor weather. And sometimes stuff breaks while we're airborne, though the failure itself usually isn't fatal. Which leaves the pilot -- you and me -- as one of the final and most significant links in the chain leading to an accident. Break that link -- prevent it from affecting the outcome of the flight -- and our chances of soundly sleeping in our own bed that night skyrocket. Combine poor weather with poor piloting, and that's when the soft stuff hits the fan. Just as some handful of pilots each year decide that flying into a thunderstorm is the wisest course of action (it never is), some other handful are so focused on getting home to their own bed or making a buck that they cut corners. At the end of a long day, and sometimes in preparation for one, they decide the end result of being when and where they want to be justifies flying into the fog bank shrouding the mountain, descending into haze the same color as a broadcasting tower or cutting some other corner. In these pages, we frequently have the unfair opportunity to dissect their final few moments -- it's unfair because we have the luxury of knowing how things came out. While there are more egregious errors a pilot can commit, few offer more history, are easier to avoid and are as simple to identify as busting minimums on an instrument approach. After all, the procedure is right there, printed on a piece of paper, and offers well-designed drawings and easy-to-read text describing how to fly the approach. Another area where errors are often made is in complying with regulations. Given the number of rules by which we're supposed to fly, it has been said that no one can conduct a single flight without breaking at least one of them. That's a bit of a stretch. Most of the rules governing aviation are really minimum standards. We're free to exceed the standards they set, but it's usually not a good idea to set the compliance bar any lower. That's especially true when it comes to who is qualified to fly what airplane and when, as well as when considering the question of being fit to fly.
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