Can Fatal Accidents Be Reduced?

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Is flight training hopelessly and irretrievably broken? And if it is, is there anything we can do about it? Those two questions were at the top of the agenda at last week's first Symposium of Aviation and Flight Educators.

Permit me a paragraph on the organization of this event. It was simply superb. Organizers Doug Stewart, Bob Wright and Rich Stowell assembled a well-conceived, fast-moving program that consisted of six panels on various subjects. Within those panels, each person was given about 10 minutes to cover a specific topic. As a result, the information was crisp and on-target and the day never dragged. I scribbled madly, filling a notebook with facts and ideas. Anyone putting together such a thing on any topic would do well to emulate SAFE's efforts.

The underlying assumption here is that flight instructors—or educators, if you prefer—can improve the industry's vitality by helping reduce the fatal accident rate. Using the best data available, it stands at 1.2/100,000 hours, more than 240 times the rate of the scheduled airlines. After day one, I compared notes with Bob Miller, who runs a busy flight school in Buffalo, New York. I confessed that I don't buy the notion that improving the fatal accident rate, while laudable, will have any effect on pilot starts. I just don't see the direct connection. But Miller, who's a lot smarter than me and is actually in the day-to-day world of flight training, does see the connection. It's the cocktail party reaction. When he mentions what he does for a living, Miller hears, "Oh, aren't those little airplanes dangerous?" What I hear — or what I think I hear — is, "Oh, I always wanted to try that." So right out of the gate, at least two guys don't agree on the fundamental supposition.

But we do agree that reducing the fatal accident rate through improved training is commendable. But how? At the end of this blog, I'm listing most of the nearly 30 recommendations SAFE came up with. As was intended, many of these are education-centric, since the underlying assumption is that the way to reduce fatals is to force a cultural change first among instructors who can then pass this knowledge and skill into the piloting ranks.

It has become an article of faith in this country that government regulation of any kind is bad and that the private sector or the regulated participants are best suited to clean up their own houses. Even the FAA is onboard. At the SAFE symposium, agency representatives, including Randy Babbitt, made it abundantly clear that they want to tackle this GA fatals problem without additional regulation. That's good as far as it goes. So I asked how are we going to make any of these recommendations stick? GA pilots have clearly demonstrated that they won't flock toward recurrent training voluntarily, although some do. I didn't get a compelling answer to this question.

The required FAR 61.56 flight review laughably passes as recurrent training, but instructors have their own version of this folly. It's called the Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic or FIRC. The biggest challenge in these things is staying awake for 16 hours. They are dumbed down to the point of uselessness. The upshot is, due to our demonization of things "required," we have created two problems: a flight instructor revalidation process that's market-driven and guarantees mediocrity and the opportunity for those rusty instructors to get at pilots who need recurrent training only once every 24 months. (OK, so not all the instructors are rusty, but you get the idea.)

What I'd do is this: I'd tweak FAR 61.197 to allow flight instructors to renew through a FSDO, just as they can now, or take the checkride again, as they also can now. But at every other renewal, they would have to complete a Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic meeting the requirements of AC 60-XX. This is a new as-yet-be-written advisory circular specifying what a FIRC has to do. Some of SAFE's recommendations included using AC's as tools and the FAA is happy with this.

Groups like SAFE, if they're serious about a culture change, could then put some teeth and challenge into this AC, relying on nothing more than a minor wording change to FAR 61.197 to make it stick. There are a lot ways to do this and the FAA seems to be saying it will give the industry a free hand to make it happen. There's a temptation to dumb it down to keep CFI's from dropping out; to make it easy and jolly them along. That should be avoided, because some of them should drop out if they're not serious about recurrency.

If I were writing that AC, the FIRC would be a challenging, task/scenario based curriculum, not hours based. It would also have a flight component, which none of the FIRCs now do, because it's not practical. So I'd write into the AC a specific set of mandatory and optional flight tasks totaling perhaps three or four hours of flying, with an endorsement required from an instructor. You'd do that training independent of the FIRC itself before showing up. For the in-classroom portion, I'd hand everyone an iPad upon arrival and hit them with a bunch of short quizzes to see what they know, with the grading in real time right up on a big flat screen, sort of like those online games some airliners have now. It could just as easily be done via webinar. Follow that with immediate instruction to address shortcomings.

If you're ill-prepared or hopelessly rusty, it will show and nobody likes to look dumb. At the end, I'd require a written that you'd have to pass or face a pink slip. You'd have some skin in the game and you'd be challenged to brush up before arriving. One other tweak: I'd change the FAR 61.56 flight review requirement to 12 months from 24 months. This idea would ignite huge opposition, but you can't change culture unless you can get at the people who need changing. If you're okay with the current fatal accident rate—and, bluntly, I suspect some people are--then don't change a thing.

My test case for this is drunk driving. Since the 1990s, the incidence of drunk driving accidents has declined sharply due to the kind of culture change we're talking about here. That involved education, public service spots and community outreach—the soft stuff. That's good. But we also started arresting and fining people for driving drunk—that's the regulatory part—and more drivers slowly decided that drinking and driving is socially unacceptable. They didn't reach that conclusion out of altruism. We didn't "incentivize" or "motivate" such people, we arrested and fined them.

We don't need to fine pilots, but those who need recurrent training won't always seek it out. In fact, the ones who do seek it aren't the problem. I suppose another alternative is to offer insurance price breaks or penalties for those who don't seek recurrent training. I'm open to suggestions.

In another blog, I'll look at accidents and judgment, which is at the core of this problem.

Selected SAFE Recommendations

  • Establish, through Advisory Circular, a best practices framework for CFIs
  • Establish certificate-specific flight reviews and training under FAR 61.56
  • Allow for student pilot certificate discontinuance for students who don't complete training within a specified time
  • Gather additional detailed accident data from insurance companies
  • Establish a GA ambassador program to communicate the value of GA to students and would-be students
  • Improve customers' and student pilots' "inside-the-door" experience at flight schools
  • Improve student pilot retention by teaching CFIs customer-service skills
  • Use instructor and flight school organizations to develop mentor programs for student pilots
  • Develop doctrine to build a safety culture with students from day one
  • Fully integrate safety culture doctrine across the board for all kinds of training and operations
  • Make risk management a specific instructional area
  • Simplify and overhaul the FAA's FITS (FAA/Industry Training Standards) program
  • Review and standardize the current CFI renewal process
  • Create a knowledge standard for both oral and practical tests
  • Form a standing industry committee to address weaknesses in Practical Test Standards
  • Reevaluate the use of ATDs, FTDs as training tools and clarify the potential
  • Establish better guidelines for flight reviews
  • Taylor curriculum to specific student goals
  • Emphasize load factor and angle of attack when teaching stall/spin awareness and throughout all training
  • Establish continuing education programs for CFIs to create a persistent safety culture
  • Better quality control for CFI course and DPE oversight of revalidations

Comments (75)

Link to SAFE recommendations is missing.

Posted by: Steven Brecher | May 8, 2011 10:54 PM    Report this comment

Sorry about that. File got damaged. I've place the list directly in the blog.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2011 5:06 AM    Report this comment

Most GA pilots learn to fly at their local FBO. While safety is a desired goal of all FBOs they exist to make profits from aircraft rentals and flight training.

I think the real difference between accident statistics for professional pilots vs. GA pilots stems from the culture at FBOs as opposed to the culture in professional flight organizations.

If we really want to improve GA safety we must change the culture in the place where most GA pilots get their training. Perhaps specialized flying clubs for part time pilots would be an improvement over the typical FBO.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2011 7:20 AM    Report this comment

I would like to see a report on what phase of flight most accidents occur and see us focus on the eighty twenty theory to make the accident record better although I think comparing accident rates between the airlines and GA are a bit silly to me. Why don't we compare to boating or driving a car? The only thing GA flight and the airlines have in common is we both do it in the air.
These proposals still seem to me like more rules coming and I still maintain that aircraft unintentionally hitting the ground are more like bad golf. The problem is way more in the five inches between your ears than anywhere else.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 9, 2011 7:26 AM    Report this comment

Faulty logic. You start off with the assumption that flight schools are lacking and that there is a lack of emphasis on safety in GA. There GA culture already has a much higher degree "awareness" when it comes to safety than drivers (drunk or otherwise).

Little airplanes ARE DANGEROUS and telling people otherwise is counter productive and downright wrong. Lots of gas, low power, fragile airframes, fewer safe places to land every day. That is what you need to tell all new students on day 1.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 9, 2011 7:51 AM    Report this comment

One of my pet peeves about flight instruction is the effect of time-building on pay structure of the profession. The low pay induced by the kids that will basically fly for free precludes making flight instruction (without some unique niche) financially impossible for anyone with normal living expenses. I don't understand why this particular subject wasn't covered in the SAFE recommendations.

It's said that the quality doesn't suffer from time builders in the ranks, and while I mostly agree, the perception of a student whose lesson was cancelled because his/her time building instructor got a chance to fly a twin doesn't help with retention. I believe this subject is the "elephant in the room". Let's be honest about the effect of time builders on the industry.

My proposal would be to separate airline-bound instructors from the recreational market. Let the Delta Connection and Embry Riddle kids teach each other and let part 61 schools use CFIs who teach because they want to.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | May 9, 2011 7:57 AM    Report this comment

All the other respondents have pointed up components to the problem when it comes to safety. I would like to suggest a remedy that is very very "do-able" given some personal will.

We all know that we begin to forget something right after we learn it. That is why it is vital that pilots remain actively engaged in Aviation, to keep an aviation safety mind set. Taking a trip around the patch every 90 days to fulfill your currency requirements isn't enough. Costs are a problem, sure, but taking "fantasy flights" on your computer cost only your time and effort. And, DO IT RIGHT! Just as if you were flying a REAL airplane, from preflight planning to touch down. Repetition reinforces memory. So the more you do it, the more ingrained it becomes in your actions or reactions. To practice emergencies, turn the "failures" up to the maximum settings.

Make notes about your flight. What needs brushing up? What went well? Give yourself a grade, and spend some time "boning up" from your old text books, or online, when you find weak points.

Posted by: Douglas Fredlund | May 9, 2011 9:23 AM    Report this comment

>more than 240 times the rate of the scheduled airlines<

That's the fact that gets pretty well ignored by GA pilots, and I don't think the suggestions in the article will fix that problem. There are plenty of fatal accidents involving experienced and current pilots. "The drive to the airport is the most dangerous part of the flight" that I/we used to say to questioning passengers doesn't cut it any more because we know better. I don't have an answer, but I've also not heard or read anything that tells me anyone else has one either. Don't we need to rethink the whole safety issue from scratch and not be bound by the past; the safety record of that past (and present) is too poor to use as a basis for a solution.

Posted by: Malcolm Ruthven | May 9, 2011 9:38 AM    Report this comment

>>In another blog, I'll look at accidents and judgment, which is at the core of this problem.

Posted by: A Richie | May 9, 2011 9:45 AM    Report this comment

If you are a hammer then everything looks like a nail.

A meeting of flight instructors thinks the problem with GA safety is flight instructors. Duh! Indeed, I don't think the flight instructors are at fault. They do a good job of getting people trained for flight checks and a possible future as good pilots.

It is the system that is at fault - if there is a fault at all. The flight training system is designed to create professional pilots at the end of the long road. Alas, many pilots don't go all the way down that road. Instead, there are a bunch who buy or build airplanes and become airplane owners and one man flight operations. In that environment they depend on their own judgment, skill and "Culture" of aviation for survival. Few personal airplane owners fly more than 50 hours per year and most fly a lot less than that. I believe it is this bunch of airplane owner/operators that account for the lion's share of accidents.

The government solution for these very low continuing time pilots is to make all of us go for a one hour ride with an instructor once every two years. For those who fly all the time this is a waste of time and money. For the ones who really need improvement this is not enough.

We don't need better instructors or more rules and regulations to cut down on accidents. We need a culture change. I don't know how to make this happen but I do know it is a very difficult task that will take a lot of determined effort and a long time to achieve.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2011 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Great input is occurring on this blog.

New factors are affecting GA training. In early flight training, we're taught that to safely get from A to B, we must constantly re-evaluate our progress. Are winds as expected? Are visibilities as expected? Then make adjustments, if necessary.

To address some factors affecting getting GA training to "B" (improved safety).
1. Compensate for students who show up with preconceived notions (due to video games, flt. sim. programs, etc).
2. Teach until certain reactions are automatic. An airline captain continuing to "pull back" after a stall is a bad epitaph to his training.
3. Teach that, on occasion controls must be moved aggressively. Four of my co-workers were on Am Eagle's Flt. 4184 at Roselawn (10/31/94). Ice caused instability with the ailerons, and they deflected fully. The A/C quickly rolled 135 deg.
An aircraft on approach is suddenly rolled to the right 90 deg by a wake vortice. Needed is quick, aggressive left rudder. United's fully loaded 747 departing SFO in June of '98 lost the #3 engine. It needed aggressive left rudder.
5. Compensate for misconceptions about automation. Pilots are responsible for what IT does, also. Investigation after accidents sometimes reveals over reliance.

Some of this might involve flight schools rotating students between instructors whose strengths are in the realm of a student's current training.

Posted by: Evan Yoder | May 9, 2011 10:08 AM    Report this comment

"We don't need better instructors or more rules and regulations to cut down on accidents. We need a culture change." follow that by saying you don't know how to do it. What SAFE is attempting is to do that through the instructional community. Lacking any better ideas, I think their effort is a valid way to proceed.

But it's folly to think that the people most susceptible to a fatal accident will do this voluntarily. They've shown that they won't. Consider groups like COPA, whose population is not quite accident free, most almost. The majority of Cirrus fatals have been owners who don't belong to COPA.

Back to drunk driving. In the early 1990s, we as a society, decided we had had enough and did something about it. It was a significant societal problem. GA fatals aren't a societal problem by any means, but they are a GA community problem.

You can, of course, just write these guys off to GA "being dangerous" so get over it. One way to look at it, I suppose. But it's defeatist to simply not try to improve it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2011 10:15 AM    Report this comment

As a CFII, I can teach you nearly everything you need to know to be a good, safe pilot, but I CAN'T MAKE YOU LEARN IT! Everyone learns differently. The tone of this discussion seems to be degrading into the same discussion they are currently having nationally about our K-12 education system. As the old saw goes; "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." If I could turn you into a perfect pilot, you would not be a person, you would be an robot. Maybe the solution is to equip all autopilots with an "Emergency Auto-land" button? That still wouldn't eliminated idiots doing stupid things with an airplane.

Posted by: Douglas Fredlund | May 9, 2011 10:15 AM    Report this comment

>>> We need a culture change." follow that by saying you don't know how to do it.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2011 10:38 AM    Report this comment

One the one hand we're crying the blues because the pilot population is declining and students don't complete training. On the other we're lamenting the unacceptable accident rate in recreational GA. "Solutions" which involve "teeth" whether applied to instructors or pilots might, say again might, improve the accident rate but they will do it by lowering the population of pilots. Fewer will start and fewer will stay in the game. Paul's right, judgement, or the lack of it, is the root cause of most accidents today. Add some mechanical issues caused by the high cost of maintaining an airplane and you have most of the accidents accounted for. No amount of training or recurrent taining will make up for a lack of judgement or a lack of money. Although I agree that the prosecution of drunk drivers has had a positive impact on that problem, similar methodology applied to aviation will simply drive more people away, pun intended. Put me in the column of those who are content with the accident rate as it is. I've been flying for 40 years so I've earned my judgement the hard way. The fact that some others won't survive to learn is a shame, but "life ain't fair".

Posted by: Barton Robinett | May 9, 2011 10:40 AM    Report this comment

"It is the system that is at fault - if there is a fault at all. "

The system, Paul *is* instructors. It was pointed out at the symposium that our basic instructional doctrine hasn't changed since the 1938 Civil Pilot Training Act. And it's true. We haven't re-examined the basics, we haven't improved training concepts much and we certainly haven't even considered adding risk assessment or mitigation as a standard part of training.

Would it make a difference if we did? I haven't a clue, frankly. It's quite possible that it wouldn't. Maybe 250 to 300 fatals a year is the cost of doing business.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2011 10:51 AM    Report this comment

The question was FATAL accidents, not accidents.
FATAL accidents involve huge lapses in judgment, in-air collisions, or massive equipment failure. I guess I fail to see how "training" reduced true accidents or mental/hardware failures.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 9, 2011 10:58 AM    Report this comment

Paul, adding risk assesment to the training syllabus is certainly potentially helpful. My dad taught me to never forget that an airplane can kill you on any given day in a hundred ways. I taught my son the same thing. In addition, simply flying with someone who takes risk management seriously for most of your young life leads to a pilot who understands what good judgment is made of. What I don't know is how to install those life experiences into the training program of an FBO. I'm inclined to think 250 to 300 fatals a year is "the cost of doing business", but one thing I never do is try to convice a passenger or future pilot that flying is "safe". As Pop's used to say, "after you get about 20 feet in the air it doesn't matter much how high you go, you're going to hit the ground just as hard".

Posted by: Barton Robinett | May 9, 2011 11:07 AM    Report this comment

>>> The system, Paul *is* instructors.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2011 11:15 AM    Report this comment

I have to second the thrust behind Paul's comment "If you are a hammer then everything looks like a nail”.

Instructor-centric schemes involving mandating annual (or semi-annual, or monthly?) flight reviews, turning them into full-blown recertification testing, etc., will only alienate the non-instructor majority and to a much greater degree than cocktail conversation about “those unsafe little airplanes” will drive away even more potential pilots.

A couple of underlying facts cannot be changed: Aviation is inherently more dangerous than many other activities because the physical realities of flight impose greater penalties on errors in judgment, and even the best-trained and most level-headed individual will occasionally make a judgmental error. Given that non-corporate general aviation flying mostly is done by a single pilot with no one present to correct an error, GA safety will always suffer when measured against other segments.

As others point out, the task of identifying and reaching out to the sub-group of pilots most likely to make these fatal errors is not an easy one. The law of diminishing returns needs to be considered when the sole proposal is to reach them via the shotgun approach of imposing more and more costly training on the entire pilot population.

Posted by: John Wilson | May 9, 2011 11:24 AM    Report this comment

The basic premise is interesting. The fatal accident rate has been, what seems to me, to be quite consistent for the past ten years or more. Now suddenly it becomes a major problem and there is no question the flight instructors are the culprits. If we look at Nall, we see that Take-off & climb, Maneuvering,and weather are the fatality leaders. Maneuvering and weather both result in fatalities in more than one half of the accidents. If this is all the fault of flight instructors we need to clearly indicate what needs to be taught differently when teaching take-offs and climbing, Maneuvering, and weather. For instance is emphasis on judgement needed for weather and maneuvering and emphasis on technique for Take-off and climb? Perhaps some more technique for maneuvering or both for all three.
Sending instructors to remedial school is not the answer unless the school emphasizes what is need to be changed in the instruction. Having really well trained instructors teaching the same things is no help. To reiterate, exactly what changes in the flight instruction format are likely to affect the fatal accident rate of general aviation.

Posted by: GENNARO AVOLIO | May 9, 2011 11:40 AM    Report this comment

Here's the start of a paper I sent in to several of those participating. This web page won't let me publish the whole paper in fewer than six submissions. Don't think that any of these ideas have been seen in print...


“Your best thinking got you here,” is a phrase used in Alcoholics Anonymous. In other words, a change in thinking is required to get changed results. In my opinion, there are underlying factors to be more directly addressed:
1. The comfort zone of the trainer is often a barrier to customer focus and training quality;
2. Flying has so many variables that it is an art, not something that can be reduced to certainties and slogans.
3. The aviation environment is needlessly and excessively complex and hard to learn.


There is a natural pride and feeling of accomplishment and achievement that I have seen in my career in different technical groups, such as pilots/flight instructors. I have observed this in males, but that does not necessarily mean that it is not present in females as well. This feeling, which I will call “learning-machismo,” or LM, is the attitude that the mastery of arcane knowledge, fluency in a jargon, and high levels of hard-to-acquire skills are indisputable manifestations of one’s accomplishments and worth.

The problem with LM is that LM practitioners are often more concerned with protecting their self-image as masters of minutiae than they are concerned with imparting knowledge to students.

Posted by: Ed Wischmeyer | May 9, 2011 11:48 AM    Report this comment

>>> Given that non-corporate general aviation flying mostly is done by a single pilot with no one present to correct an error, GA safety will always suffer when measured against other segments.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 9, 2011 11:54 AM    Report this comment



You have a valid point there. Our nation long ago decided that tens of thousands of deaths in car accidents each year is "the cost of doing business."

Most of the car deaths could be prevented through robust driver's education programs, and also requiring prospective drivers to actually demonstrate driving competency before getting a license (as many European countries do), but we've never felt it was worth it. As you say, it's the accepted cost of doing business.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 9, 2011 12:45 PM    Report this comment

Sometimes I think the community has forgotten the difference between safety and proficiency. There is a huge amount of emphasis on safety and not enough on proficiency. If part of the standard training included a good dose of upset training and hood time accidents would go down a lot and oh yeah repeating that regularly. A friend of mine and I go out and beat each other up as often as is practical. In that way you have to spend very little brain power thinking about aviating when you are called upon to worry about the weather and the gotg tapping at you.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 9, 2011 2:02 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Stuart Baxter | May 9, 2011 2:04 PM    Report this comment

"Establish a GA ambassador program to communicate the value of GA to students"

This would be the most counter-productive program imaginable. Think of gun safety. You don't start off the process by telling 16 year-olds the benefits of gun ownership. You SHOULD be teaching them the immense responsibility of what they are intending to do, not how much benefit/enjoyment they can get from it.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 9, 2011 2:21 PM    Report this comment

"part of the standard training included a good dose of upset training and hood time accidents would go down a lot and oh yeah repeating that regularly."

While you're at it, work on your stall avoidance technique--turning, accelerated and mush. Hard as it to imagine, stall and stall/spins are still common accident results.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2011 2:34 PM    Report this comment

Flight Safety is at least 90% attitude. Flight instructors should have enough experience to be able to separate what’s safe from what’s legal and then teach it. Instructors also need enough people skills to be able to tell when a student’s attitudes are not where they need to be. Lastly, and this is no small feat, there needs to be a way to reduce the turnover caused by CFI’s who are only building time towards a corporate career. I think probably the most effective way to do that would be to fix the economy so that students and recurrent training junkies could afford to pay an instructor a living wage.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | May 9, 2011 4:45 PM    Report this comment

the above post cut out the website at project-festoon. you will have to search, or put com at the end.
perhaps there is a filter

Posted by: Francis Gentile | May 9, 2011 6:24 PM    Report this comment

I don't know if SAFE addressed this but Sport Pilot may be part the problem now. Light Sport and Ultralight aircraft are very different than traditional GA aircraft. Aircraft with high lift, high drag wings need to be flown differently to be flown safely. Most people that were instructing in these aircraft and have the experience and judgement to pass on stopped instructing due to lack of suitable aircraft (I won't go into all the details). The result is that we lost of a lot of great instructors and their collective experience and knowledge.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | May 9, 2011 7:40 PM    Report this comment


You know I'm sure, that the Air Force and Navy each have professional, serious, and concentrated flight training programs without equal, but they still have accidents.

Pilots in both the Navy and Air Force face a constant parade of checkrides each year: Flight currency, instrument proficiency, plus tactics and mission ready checks. And very time they fly with the squadron commander or their flight commander they are informally evaluated for judgment and flying skill, and after each flight undergo a lengthy mission debriefing where they review and analyze every mistake and discuss what they could and should have done better.

Any re-structuring of civilian flight training would do well to copy elements of what the Air Force and Navy do, but would also have to realize that even the Navy and Air Force have fatal accidents.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 10, 2011 9:13 AM    Report this comment

Here is a very simple way to improve the quality of instructors: Any time spent instructing does NOT count towards getting you in the right, and eventually into the left seat of an airliner. This would eliminate the hour-builder-CFI for whom I have very little respect. I recently even read a quote in a jet career forum where one guy came out and said "I don't really want to teach, but...". Yes, I can see the howls of disagreement from here but if I was to employ a pilot for my airline, I want to see cross country time, not time spent watching a student (or more likely idly looking out the window, checking your cellphone, dreaming about that Learjet... )
etc....) This would also improve the wages of those who really want to instruct and make it possible to actually make a modest living at it.

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | May 10, 2011 9:38 AM    Report this comment

I've actually been researching the Navy accident/mishap rate, which they have managed to improve markedly during the past 20 years. Yes, they do have accidents, but given how fundamentally high-risk what they do really is, they have an astonishingly good record.

One thing they've done is this culture change we're talking about. Training out or at least identifying the attitude that sets up the accident change with poor decisionmaking and learning to *recognize* the risks, rather than *manage* them. That's why I hate the term "risk management."

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 10, 2011 10:29 AM    Report this comment


Your notion that time builder instructors should not get credit for their flight experience is in direct conflict with the current legislation (law?) requiring 1500 hours for even a right seat job on a scheduled airline.

If ambitious pilots can't get a job until they have 1500 hours and they can't get those hours instructing then how will they get there?

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 10, 2011 11:39 AM    Report this comment

>> can't get those hours instructing then how will they get there?

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 10, 2011 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Sadly, most of those ideas just don't work.

The military is dropping the idea of manned aircraft. There are still a few pilots being trained, but in very small numbers. Also, many of the newly qualified military pilots will never get to fly in the air - instead they will hang out in trailers with remote controls. Freight dogging is scheduled airline operation - indeed the biggest of the airlines. Ag flying is beyond even most ATP rated pilots. I imagine fish spotting, glider towing, and the other stuff would qualify a few pilots but not very many.

Eventually, under the new rules the airlines will need to find ways to qualify pilots instead of just hiring them.

Posted by: PAUL MULWITZ | May 10, 2011 1:07 PM    Report this comment

"If ambitious pilots can't get a job until they have 1500 hours and they can't get those hours instructing then how will they get there?"

If airlines need pilots, how about they provide some training? Is that such a far-fetched concept? Then they get pilots trained to the standards they want and instructors can do the job they want.

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | May 10, 2011 1:15 PM    Report this comment

There is one improvement that seems obvious to me, and is a simple one: Require licensed pilots to fly, and train, more frequently (speaking of GA, non-professionals here).

One reason professional pilots are safer is because they fly a lot, and they train a lot. If every non-professional licensed pilot flew weekly, and trained every 6 months, then I suspect you would see the accident rate drop significantly.

I'm sure there are improvements that can be made to flight training, but I don't think it stops there.

Posted by: David Brown | May 10, 2011 1:40 PM    Report this comment

How does the GA accident rate compare to other forms of recreation/transportation? The last thing I want to see are more rules aimed at the lowest common denominator. The voices that scream the loudest about perceived safety are generally the least qualified pilots.

The main thing that keeps the masses out of GA is COST!!! On top of that the percentage of our population that are willing to spend the time becoming competent knowledgeable pilots is low. Lets face it we live in an instant gratificaton culture and a pilots license is not a quick process.

Posted by: Brad Vaught | May 10, 2011 6:09 PM    Report this comment

I've noticed two groups of pilots that are "accidents waiting to happen" Group 1 is the "superpilot" who will fly anytime, anywhere. Some aggressive enforcement by the FAA is probably in order here. Hopefully their licenses get revoked before they kill themselves or others. Group 2 is the "two hour a year pilot" I see some hope for them. Cost is a very big issue. I think a big push to establish flying clubs might really help. Perhaps with an instructor who has a vested interest in the club, or recruit an A&P as a member for low cost maintenance. Based upon numbers I've been playing with, I think a club with a VFR 150 could be looking at numbers of $50 - $55 an hour wet, and an old VFR 172 might be doable for $60 - $70.

Around here rentals are going for $115 - 140/hr - that is a pretty tough pill to swallow if you're going to fly 2 to 4 hours a month (which is in my opinion a minimum to stay proficient) Personally, I feel my skills degrade if I don't fly at least 10 hours/month.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 10, 2011 7:10 PM    Report this comment

"It has become an article of faith in this country that government regulation of any kind is bad"

Regulations only hinder reasonable people; laws OBVIOUSLY don't hinder bad/dangerous behavior. That's why MORE regulations only make it harder on reasonable people.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | May 11, 2011 6:44 AM    Report this comment

Gary, you're right that all those sources will provide some pilots. As the military sources start to dry up, the airlines will figure out they'll have to turn to some form of ab initio training. Resources and technology for doing this are constantly improving.

There's not going to be a crisis pilot shortage. If there's a little shortage, maybe that's good. Perhaps the entry level salaries will then increase, which they need to do.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 11, 2011 7:02 AM    Report this comment

Pipeline patrol? Fish spotting? Alaskan bush pilot? Taking skydivers aloft? How many jobs of this nature does Gary Dikkers think there are? Now that you have qualified a couple of hundred pilots what about the rest? Flying along straight and level hour after hour doesn't treach much of anything. The constant maneuvering that is the daily work of a CFI developes better pilot skills than a single landing at the end of a long flight.

Posted by: Donald Purney | May 11, 2011 8:16 AM    Report this comment



You're right. Ag flying demands more stick and rudder skills and requires better hands than an airline pilot will ever need.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | May 11, 2011 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Before any suggestion for mandatory recurrent training I would run QC on the trainers

Last two IPC's (different CFIIs) the guy could not figure out how to work the IFR GPS **in an airplane that he owned**. These were both old guys, and freelance. Not time builders. Have to grit your teeth pretty hard to write a check for that "training".

I've had good instructors of course, but it's definitely not the norm. My expectation for any flight instruction is so low that I have near zero enthusiam to seek out training any more. For me finding a knowedgable guy, or place that actually did tune me up would be the difference to go for more training more often.

Posted by: BYRON WARD | May 11, 2011 12:14 PM    Report this comment

"My expectation for any flight instruction is so low that I have near zero enthusiam to seek out training any more."

Not uncommon, I think. It obviously shouldn't be that way and maybe addressing instructors can help.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 11, 2011 2:54 PM    Report this comment

Josh has a good idea. I've been in 2 flying clubs and one small partnership. To keep insurance rates low, the flying clubs and the partnership made recurrent training a requirement and a priority. Every six months you had to fly with the resident instructor. He would pick apart your skills and find problems before they turned into bad habits. The CFII in our partnership would call you up and say "let's go flying" on a windy day with 30 knot cross winds. I would never do that by myself but because of the training, I could land in a 30 knot cross wind if I needed to. It would be interesting to know the accident rate for clubs verses pilots not in clubs.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | May 11, 2011 9:33 PM    Report this comment

Let's start over. All these ideas are meaningful, but what are we really looking for?
There are all kinds of situations leading to forced landings. These happen to all kinds of pilots, not a matter their background, flight time or personalities.
The fatalities happen at the landing. Most accident reports say, "stall and crash".
What happened to teaching engine-out landing procedures. Proficiency in: Engine-out spot landing. Using ground effect, seeing what rocks and trees look like as a landing site, learning to think about what could happen, recognizing when becoming a passenger and methods of survival during touchdown to stop!!
Private pilots are not even required to be taught or demonstrate idle-power landings. Emergency landing procedures for demonstration go to 500 feet above the ground the go-around!!
Let's learn to land, not stall on approach. The mental problems trying to accept this kind of landing require much prior thought and consideration. It's not easy but I can tell you it is possible with proper training. Don't just tell the new pilot to fly the airplane through the landing, teach them how. Show them. Make them proficient. They will remember when the time comes...but only by having considered it beforehand.

Posted by: Robert Reser | May 12, 2011 9:44 AM    Report this comment

To Josh Johnson,

Seriously - how many 2-hour-a-year pilots have fatal accidents? It's very rare, and probably for the same reason it's very rare for student pilots to have fatal accidents. Both engage in active risk reduction, flying only in near-ideal conditions.

Posted by: Finbar Sheehy | May 12, 2011 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Lets step back and look at why the highway fatal accident rates have declined so much without any recurrent training or changes in instruction or testing. Even if you eliminate the DUI factor, driving has continued to be safer. Why? Technology, tires, brakes, lighting, roads, improved vehicle structure, etc. While many will argue none of this applies to aviation, think about it first. BRS systems, "air" bags, gps navigation, etc. add to accident survival or avoidance. Yes, only the new planes that the rich can afford have them now, but the same argument applies to cars. I admit that progress will be too slow for most due to the fact that GA fleet replacement is glacial. In the homebuilt community, the take rate of these new technologies is surprisingly high, since costs are much lower in non-certified world.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 12, 2011 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Finbar, I don't know how many two hour a year pilots have accidents, but some of them scare the s*&% out of me on flight reviews. And I disagree in the active risk reduction argument, as I can name about three I know personally who will pull out their 6 seat singles or light twins and go fly in crap that I wouldn't consider as an IFR current CFII.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 12, 2011 7:47 PM    Report this comment

Josh, fair enough! I guess I just never read about them wrecking airplanes! Two questions for you: why don't the risks bother the "fly in crap" guys; and why aren't they dead, do you think? (I have no preconceptions on these topics!)

Posted by: Finbar Sheehy | May 12, 2011 10:35 PM    Report this comment

Comments need to be limited to 1500 characters. Please remove 3720 characters. a nutshell:

+ Let's separate the "pilot decline" and "accident rate" issues. On a Venn diagram, they will intersect, but, they are two different issues requiring unique solutions respectively.

+ There are many reasons why the pilot population is declining. ONE of these reasons is indeed the horrific accident rate. BUT, it is only ONE reason, and not necessarily THE reason accident rates are where they are today or why the pilot population is declining.

+ Ron White said it best: You can't fix stupid.

+ The solutions SAFE is looking for already exists. See 14 CFR Part 121 for details.

+ ASA did an excellent thing when they offered FREE syllabus. Now we just need everyone in the flight training process to actually use it correctly.

+ While I admire the efforts of the SAFE symposium, we must take care that this doesn't become a Salem witch hunt.

Posted by: William Wang | May 13, 2011 1:37 PM    Report this comment

WRT proficiency: The USAF used to require desk-bound pilots fly a minimum of 36 hours per year divided into 12 hrs per quarter, including a flight check. It seemed to work.

My experience with giving flight checks to old heads is misunderstandings such as 'the GPS ground speed is a better measure of airspeed', but only when it suits them. or always set full rich/high RPM/carb heat at the final approach fix disregarding what GAMI has taught us; Or criticism when we propose training in high winds or taking private students into actual IMC for a few hours (with a block clearance). The book tells students 'thou shall not' without a clearance when reality is, 'stuff happens.' Especially at night. Lets train for that.

Which points out the fallacies of memorizing the rule book and OWTs: I bet people have more accidents scud running or inducing vertigo during a 180 degree turn than applying the USN mantra, which is: Do nothing while you get on the gages; Turn on the autopilot if available; Climb above the terrain and call ATC to tell them what you did or other solutions while continuing to fly the plane.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 13, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Instead the school house solution is to never enter IMC without a clearance, and if you do then promptly make a 180 turn 'cause there may be monsters. I have seen pilots panic in that situation, turn off the autopilot and turn a perfectly safe bump thru a puffy into an unusual attitude recovery 'just to stay legal.' Someone taught that behavior, and it's shameful.

What I'm suggesting here is a good angel/bad angel to tell the students: Here are the rules and here's reality. Job-1 is to fly the airplane, followed by not hitting anything or running out of gas while avoiding weather you cannot handle. By all means do not turn a broken rule into an emergency.

I have other examples of regulation or urban legend induced behaviors, but this isn't the forum for such detail.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 13, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Another way to reduce the number of fatal accidents: ballistic recovery parachutes. I cannot believe there is even a debate about the merits of these things, usually with the kind of people who will tell you that safety belts in cars will actually kill you, that kind of thing. Or that they will dumb down the pilot population and make them take more risks. Do you drive recklessly because you know you have airbags in your car?

The only downside to the parachutes is cost. And the bureaucracy involved if you try to fit one to a certified airplane. But they would save lives, when all else fails.

Posted by: PETER THOMAS | May 13, 2011 3:10 PM    Report this comment

Technically the answer to your "do you drive recklessly" question is... yes. The studies have shown that safety features cause people to drive cars faster (i.e., more recklessly), leaving them not much safer than before. This may seem odd, but it's the exact same as the statement that you would drive more carefully if you had a spear in your car, pointing at your chest.
For more, look up Risk Compensation on Wikipedia...
Of course, that still doesn't mean parachutes are a BAD thing. Either you can lower your risk at a given level of utility, or get more utility at a given level of risk. Either is a GOOD thing. However, the anti-school are not necessarily wrong, since the weight does lower the utility (albeit a different aspect).

Posted by: Finbar Sheehy | May 13, 2011 4:13 PM    Report this comment

I've got an opinion about the "fly in crap" guys, but that's it. I think some of it's personality. Some of our "type A's personalities" live their lives by finding their limits and pushing them. This can be a hugely successful strategy in business and finance. In the air, where a close call would tell me to back it off a bit, to others it just raises their comfort level a little more. Until, they find where that real limit is - usually a smoking hole.

Why aren't they dead? They haven't used up all their luck just yet. If they fly long enough, sooner or later it will happen. See it all the time.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | May 13, 2011 4:47 PM    Report this comment

This problem (reducing overall GA accident rate) is about as easy to solve as it gets. From the ASI Nall report for 2010: “business flying by professional pilots had “the best safety record in general aviation,” with a 2009 accident rate of just 0.09 (less than one-tenth of one percent) per 100,000 flight hours. Fixed-wing business flights commanded by FAA-certificated non-professional pilots had a low rate of 1.10 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. “ The obvious answer: invest the time and money to fly like a pro. “Professional” does not necessarily mean flies for pay. It can also mean flies with skill, awareness, and judgment. Almost any pilot can achieve this with a commitment of time and money. The problem is few GA pilots are willing or able to do this, so they make a tradeoff between money and risk. World class training is readily available at Flight Safety, Bell Helicopter Training Academy (to name some that I use)and many others. Just do it. There is no mystery to this.

Posted by: R Boswell | May 13, 2011 7:06 PM    Report this comment

"Little airplanes ARE DANGEROUS and telling people otherwise is counter productive and downright wrong. Lots of gas, low power, fragile airframes, fewer safe places to land every day. That is what you need to tell all new students on day 1."

An early flight instructor told me in 1966 about the Cessna 150 we were flying, "This thing will kill you if you let it." He wasnt trying to scare me but rather to motivate me. It worked.

Posted by: R Boswell | May 13, 2011 7:29 PM    Report this comment

Yes, flying a little airplane is more dangerous than flying a airliner. It could be almost as safe if the GA pilot would get recurrent training every six months, fly 700 hours per year, have a full time maintenance staff, and a professional dispatcher to make fuel calculations.
The question is whether the GA population wants all that, given the time and dollar investment. CFIs are already equipped to provide that training, if it were demanded.
The alternative is to let the Private Certificate remain as it is, with a once every two year safety check. Up the requirement for the Commercial, so it is not just another written test and maneuvers. Require an annual or six-month proficiency check, and let the insurance companies offer lower rates based on reduced claims. Let the money be be the incentive for safety.

Posted by: Robert Hadow | May 14, 2011 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Robert, e-mail me the the links or I will find them. You can post URLs, due to spam filtering.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 14, 2011 5:47 PM    Report this comment

We're at The article links are in the lower center section of the Home Page under Article of the Month and A Word About Professionalism.

Posted by: ROBERT BARNES | May 14, 2011 5:53 PM    Report this comment

"Let the money be be the incentive for safety."

I would think that saving one's ass would be an even greater incentive!

Posted by: R Boswell | May 15, 2011 11:26 AM    Report this comment

Boswell --

I said, "Let the money be be the incentive for safety."

You said, "I would think that saving one's ass would be an even greater incentive!"

I agree with you, but ...

When you see the poorly maintained airplanes that prang, and hear about the guys who ran out of gas flying to the airport with cheaper gas, you gotta wonder.

If you showed them the financial benefits of safety, maybe then they would change their behavior. Years of safety seminars haven't changed the fatal accident rate.

Posted by: Robert Hadow | May 15, 2011 6:37 PM    Report this comment

The U of So.Cal used to have a masters degree in 'systems safety.' Those are the people who investigate accidents, become military safety officers, analyze the data and make training recommendations to commanders. Their stated purpose is to reduce the cost of doing business.

Insurance is another way short term, but insurance companies are the ones who require training and proficiency checks to reduce their cost, so in essence, training and proficiency equals safety. Why not skip the insurance and dedicate that money to training?

CAP has a flight release system that makes the PIC verify that the plane, pilot and environment meet certain criteria before being granted permission to launch. I recall that was also proposed when the very light jets were coming on line: In order for the insurance company to cover the sortie, the pilot would have to call a dispatcher who probably ran the pilot thru a checklist similar to that of CAP and many other organizations. The systems are there, as are the successes or failures and accident rates. It might be worth discussing them.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 16, 2011 11:14 AM    Report this comment

I've been in and currently out of the FAA wings program. There was one iteration of flying with a mentor who could sign off achievements and attend the safety briefings, and it seemed fun and helpful, then I gave up after serious frustration with their web site. It seems that they also replaced the mentor with a CFI, and CFIs like to charge money. I forget the specifics and perhaps I need to revisit it to see if the site has gotten easier to navigate.

Here we have paid bureaucrats managing a system that is in place and it has not been mentioned here. Why is that?

Are there others who are doing the wings thing and what is your opinion of it?

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | May 16, 2011 11:33 AM    Report this comment


Find yourself a CFI that won't charge you money. I provide WINGS, flight reviews, and instrument proficiency checks for free because I know how expensive flying is despite what some "experts" want to say or believe. The WINGS website (faasafety dot gov) has been revamped, and I don't find it hard to use at all.

Anyway, make some friends, network, and see about getting those CFI fees down some. But ultimately, you have to ask yourself, how much is your life worth? Is it worth the time and money to get proficient and stay proficient?

Posted by: William Wang | May 16, 2011 11:45 AM    Report this comment

Did the establishment of the flight review requirement lead to a significant measurable improvement in GA accident rates?

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | May 16, 2011 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Experience matters;
Learn from experienced and well educated full time instructors.
Good practice makes better and keep it simple.
Maintain your mind in the aeronautical environment.
Get involved in the aeronautical educational (FAASteam) programs.
Concentrate, keep healthy and well informed.
Keep open mind, keep learning, and remain flexible.
Don't do anything stupid and scan for others that will.
Use hands, feet, eyes and mind when flying.
Bring your wallet, nothing is free.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 3, 2011 1:11 AM    Report this comment

The private pilot is not required to learn or demonstrate proficiency in idle-power landings. Therefore, they are often not even introduced or trained in the concept. Oddly enough, that is almost the exact procedure used for emergency landings. Sure they demonstrate an approach for simulated engine out. The go-around is at 500 feet. They have demonstrated they could make the field, not how to land and survive the touchdown to roll out. NTSB statistics will show 75% of these landings touchdown at least 1/2 way down the chosen field...

Posted by: Robert Reser | June 7, 2011 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Missing from the SAFE list of stuff to do is a pre-BFR checklist. The best BFR I've seen focused on what the applicant has not done in the last year and then do them. For a laundry list, google 'capf5.' The form is a useful tool for a number of functions. While it doesn't all pertain to non-CAP flying, it is a quick and dirty 'do list' that the instructor and student can review before the flight to put together a plan of action for the flight and a list of topics to cover in the classroom. I fill it with notes and agreements, then we study. Later, we go over the material in the classroom, finalize the flight and fly it.

During a pre-flight review we determine what the pilot has been doing and sign them off with a 'v' as verbally reviewed. Satisfactory completion is coded 's'. If a topic is unsatisfactory I take notes and we teach it so the skill is satisfactory or leave it blank so the applicant and another instructor knows what needs work. When it's over we both sign copies for out files.

I encourage one of the CRM/CDM/ORM curses from AOPA or the FAAST web site, which serves two purposes: It gets them signed onto one of the web sites and we might end up a little better at spouting the flavor of the month.

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 7, 2011 2:48 PM    Report this comment

Hello Reser --
A Private Pilot IS required to show proficiency in idle-power approaches. He or she is required to plan and follow a flight pattern to the selected landing area. See FAA-S-8081-14AS. Many students are required to land as part of the check ride. All of mine do in training.
I am interested to know where you derived the NTSB statistic 75% of engine failures touch down 1/2 the way down the chosen field. NTSB form 6121.1 does not collect this data. Runway surface yes. Length, wideth and condition, yes. Distance, no. The NTSB is not interested in incidents that result in minor damage and no injury. There may will be hundreds of engine out events that land without incident.
Ninety five percent of statistics are made up on the spot -- Homer Simpson.

Posted by: Robert Hadow | June 7, 2011 5:46 PM    Report this comment

"Ninety five percent of statistics are made up on the spot -- Homer Simpson."

Love it. But it starts with: Studies show . . .

Posted by: THOMAS M CONNOR | June 7, 2011 6:30 PM    Report this comment

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