FAA Videos Remind Pilots Of Best Strategies To Avoid CFIT

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The FAA has released a new video in its “57 Seconds” series to help pilots avoid Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) accidents. CFIT is defined as flying a perfectly good airplane into the ground for any of a number of reasons. According to current numbers, more than 17 percent of GA accidents are caused by CFIT, and half of those are fatal. The high fatality rate is due to the fact that CFIT crashes often occur during cruise flight at high speed, or at maneuvering speed during arrival, which is where 61 percent of CFIT accidents happen, according to the FAA. The new video also warns against in-flight distractions, including cellphones and tablets.

The FAA put out a longer video on CFIT back in 2016, including interviews with repentant pilots who had either survived CFIT crashes or narrowly avoided disaster. That earlier video focused on Alaska, where rapidly changing weather and common use of light airplanes for daily personal travel and regularly delivering supplies led to increased risk-taking over time.

Another factor cited in the longer video was pilots’ lack of experience and unfamiliarity with terrain-awareness avionics, which were just becoming more widely available back then.

The agency advised that pilots see fit to employ three strategies for avoiding CFIT: Always get a good weather briefing; set rigid personal minimums and stick to them, regardless of the mission; and always have a Plan B (and C, and D), should the original flight plan dissolve due to weather issues.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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15 COMMENTS

    • Both videos are woth watching, and AC-64-134 is a good review. FWIW, “don’t hit the planet” is a great goal. I think about it on every flight.

      I’m sure the five men and one woman I’ve known or met in the past 40+ years of personal and pro flying didn’t launch with the intent of a fatal CFIT. Having a goal of avoiding CFIT isn’t good enough. What do you or I do to make the goal our outcome for EVERY flight?

      • Like having enough gas in the tanks, having altitude when flying is as basic as it gets. You don’t need a “strategy” to have gas in the tanks or altitude below you. A ”strategy” involves planning and people who run out of gas or altitude are already NOT planning ahead.

  1. Both videos are woth watching, and AC-64-134 is a good review. FWIW, “don’t hit the planet” is a great goal. I think about it on every flight.

    I’m sure the five men and one woman I’ve known or met in the past 40+ years of personal and pro flying didn’t launch with the intent of a fatal CFIT. Having a goal of avoiding CFIT isn’t good enough. What do you or I do to make the goal our outcome for EVERY flight?

  2. Great videos. After planning my flight in ForeFlight I go to profile view and set a crushing altitude above all of the FOD. Being turbocharged with built-in O2 means we have no CFIT worries anywhere in the lower 48.

    • “Being turbocharged with built-in O2 means we have no CFIT worries anywhere in the lower 48.” That is not at all what being turbocharged with built-in O2 means. Being turbocharged with built in O2 means if you plan correctly and execute as planned at cruise altitude, as long as your turbocharger hangs in there and your O2 pressure is sufficient you stand a good chance of not being a CFIT victim at cruise altitude in the lower 48. Your turbocharger and O2 reserves will not make up for course and altitude mistakes and erroneous chart misinterpretations during actual instrument conditions on arrival and approach which is where CFIT accidents occur. I’d suggest just asking numerous jet crews who cruised high in the flight levels above terrain only to become CFIT victims on approach, but they’re not around to ask. There is a reason why professional jet recurrent training ALWAYS includes sessions on CFIT avoidance, and it’s not because jet crews fail to clear terrain while at cruising altitude.

  3. I didn’t watch the videos. Nor am I going to. I’m simply not sympathetic to most CFIT accidents. Certainly not with today’s technology.

    While, in my younger days (when I was bolder), I almost made a bad decision to forgo a fuel stop in order to get home sooner – in IMC, which was deteriorating – I’ve never been tempted to duck below Minimums to get home sooner.

    If you run out of fuel, it’s not necessarily a death sentence. You might be able to make a safe force landing. Which is still taking a lot of risk. But it is almost certainly a death sentence if you fly into terrain, especially in mountainous area. So I never entertained the thought of taking the chance.

    Except for innocent incidents, like being vectored by a Controller to a wrong altitude under IFR (age helps here – as I get crankier, I’m willing to challenge a Controller) or making a mistake in a sparsely populated area on a moonless night – which happened to a young, new instructor I once knew (flying new to an airport in the hills in the SE) and an instructor I didn’t know (descending to Phoenix over mountains), most CFIT’s are the result of willfully bad decisions. (A buddy of mine almost hit a mountain in Alaska (pre-GPS Days) flying through a cloud while VFR. (There’s a sardonic Gary Larson “Farside” cartoon about this. “Say… what’s a mountain goat doing up here in this cloud bank?”))

    In the Old Days (pre-GPS) I always stayed above the MEF when VFR at night or scud running during the day. (Could be towers in them thar Flat Lands.) Even today, with GPS flashing yellow and red for terrain, when flying at night, my airplane partner has her flashlight on and her finger pointing to the MEF in our quadrangle. (And I add a few hundred feet cushion for the Altimeter change we inevitably encounter when going from high altitude airports to lower ones.)

  4. “I didn’t watch the videos. Nor am I going to. I’m simply not sympathetic to most CFIT accidents. Certainly not with today’s technology.”

    No wonder GA accidents are an almost daily occurrence. AVweb commentary often distinguishes the ameteurs from the professionals, but never so much as when arrogance and blind trust in “today’s technology” make themselves as evident as some of the above commentary does.

      • Keep in mind that not everyone flies fully equipped aircraft as your comment suggested and there are still very functional GPS receivers that do not display terrain information. It requires neither hard work nor stupidity for a CFIT accident, simply a lack of planning and capability. Watching a couple videos won’t prevent every accident, but so what?

        • An iPad is better equipment than 90% of most aircraft have; infinitely affordable by any pilot.

          You can’t teach planning to avoid these accidents because they happen from lack of planning. If you find a wall of granite right in front of you then that is when you realize “that planning thing” was probably important.

  5. I can see both sides of this discussion.

    I think we are best to arm ourselves with every arrow in the quiver.

    Watching the videos takes some time but is otherwise free. Certainly harmless, but for a proficient and prudent pilot unlikely to be additive to knowledge base.

    I also do not want to rely on technology, but Foreflight and an iPad is a very useful addition for an inexpensive but useful panel.

    Finally as PIC we are responsible for flight planning. FF has made this very efficient for me at least.

    I am a 2,000 hour pilot, 1,300+ of that in my Maule. We have been MANY places together unscratched.

    As recently as last summer I had to make a precautionary landing in Redding, CA for forest fire smoke and mountain obscuration.

    I had to leave my plane there (hangered thank God and a nice lady at the flight school) and drive 9 hours home. It was a month before the smoke cleared and I was able to get the plane. Very costly decision, but much better than becoming a statistic and target of derision amongst my fellow pilots.

    Rather than shame I am happy with that decision, but my upcoming IFR certification will be helpful in the future.

  6. When I started flying planes capable of flying into the flight levels, having TAWS is a real blessing, especially when flying at night. When flying into Southern California area at night it makes a great reference to those mountain tops you are flying by and can’t see when on a transition to an approach. EGPWS and radar altimeter are also good tools but usually don’t come into play until a collision with terrain is imminent. They are also give off false alarms that can create other issues. Makes you think a little if flying in an airplane that does not have those tools in mountainous terrain, especially in IMC or at night.