Archive for December, 2008

Prediction: 2009

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

The beginning of the new year just begs for some sage observation on what will happen in 2009 . I’ll wander out on the limb and you’re welcome to join me or stay close to the tree trunk.

Safe bet: The number of accidents will go down simply because we are flying less. Less exposure means fewer opportunities for something to go wrong. Insurance companies are fond of saying that their business would be perfect if people just paid their premiums and parked their airplanes.

Cloudy bet: The accident rate will increase as some pilots who are flying less become less proficient at basic flight tasks. Take offs and especially landings will suffer as these essential skills atrophy with disuse. It’s worse when one is new to the activity but even high timers are not immune. When I started flying, if I wasn’t flying at least once every other week, the rustiness began. With the grooves now worn a bit more deeply, routine actions begin to feel rusty after a month or so of layoff. Non routine activities such as instrument approaches are still in the bi-weekly category and I set my minimums accordingly.

Suggestion: If, due to economics or other downers, you’re not flying as much as in the past, get a little instruction from a trusted CFI. Invest in yourself!

What’s a good guideline for staying reasonably proficient? The Air Force used to require desk jockey pilots to log a minimum of four hours a month to maintain flight pay. Additionally, they had periodic checks to be sure they were taking good care of the taxpayers’ property.

I realize that’s more than some of us fly in the best of times and our aircraft aren’t as complex nor the missions as demanding but it’s still a performance activity. One size certainly does not fit all. Local day VFR in low density traffic and light winds is quite different from long distance cross country flying that crosses multiple weather systems, terrain and traffic environments.

What do you think is enough for reasonable safety in basic VFR and more advanced IFR flight?

Incapacitation?

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

It’s not something that happens often in General Aviation. On average, we ‘ll have about half a dozen pilot incapacitation accidents every year. The following comes from the soon-to-be-released 2008 Joseph T. Nall Report that will examine GA’s 2007 accident picture:

“Of the six incapacitation accidents that occurred in 2007, one was the result of a heart attack, and one a probable stroke. Both were fatal. Two, one fatal, were attributed to spatial disorientation. The remaining two were an apparent murder-suicide that killed two, and a loss of consciousness on short final that the pilot speculated might have been caused by dehydration. He suffered only minor injuries after a hard landing.”

Interesting categorizations! The stroke/heart attack/loss of consciousness – no problem. On spatial disorientation, it might well have been a medical problem, or not, and without getting too graphic, NTSB says that sometimes there’s not enough left to determine exactly what happened. The murder-suicide could be described as a mental incapacitation but it somehow seems different. There are about two dozen other accidents where the aircraft appears perfectly normal but fell out of the sky. There were no physiological markers so they might be incapacitation. Numerically this isn’t a huge deal but on a percentage basis, because we’re dealing with small numbers, it’s worth trying to be as accurate as we can, especially with a hyper- sensitive media and public watching.

FAA and NTSB are watching the Sport Pilot medical experiment carefully – no FAA medical required – to see if the rule is about right or if it might be loosened. AOPA has requested that recreational pilot certificate fall under the same procedure but that is on hold while the agency evaluates the experience with Sport Pilot. An informal review of Sport Pilot accidents shows nothing that would indicate that pilots are abusing the privilege.

If your flying companion is uneasy about you becoming incapacitated, they might wish to review ASF’s free online Pinch Hitter program.

Gas to go the distance?

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Why do pilots run out of fuel? We can all count the ways and unlike in cars, where it is merely an inconvenience, we are almost guaranteed significant damage and occasionally, fatalities.

Despite our disdain for the humble fuel gauges on aircraft they tend to be pretty accurate toward “empty”. Measuring time in your tank rather than distance and allowing the ASF golden hour of reserve will pretty much guarantee that you won’t fall victim to this foolishness.

There is good news, however. Several years ago ASF embarked on a fuel awareness campaign in several venues including a live seminar, a Safety Advisor Fuel Awareness and our acclaimed Pilot Safety Announcements (PSAs) that have been widely distributed. To date,there have been over 41,000 views but that’s still only 10% of AOPA’s membership – please send the links to a friend.

Would You Fly This Airline?

Hybrid Power

When we created the PSAs, three accidents a week were occurring. As of last year, we are now down to 1.7 per week, a 42% decrease. Are there other factors? Absolutely! The Technologically Advanced Aircraft do a great job of reminding pilots, not too subtly sometimes, that they’re about to do something really stupid. This may be a range ring on an MFD, a flashing annunciator or perhaps a datalink message to your insurance company (just kidding on that last one). Flying hours also play a significant part, so it’s not time to declare victory yet.

Despite the success, 2007 still had 90 fuel mismanagement accidents and I know we can do better. Look for a new effort next spring as ASF calls on you to help us further reduce this most unnecessary of accidents.