Archive for July, 2009

A really bad week

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

I always cringe a little when a holiday weekend comes along. It’s good that people are out flying but it also means that the accident potential goes up. Pilots are destination oriented and they want to get to where they want to get to. The highlights of last week’s problems include the usual fender benders and some nasty crashes.

Here’s the early tally with no purpose to pass judgment but to remind everyone that the laws of physics and gravity are absolute. (For trivia, and perhaps to make a point, the mass of the Earth is 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms). We don’t overpower mother nature for long!!!

Totals for the week:
65 accidents (2007 average was 26.6 per week)
9 fatal accidents (2007 average was 4.8)
12 fatalities (2007 average was 8.6)
Only 7 involved homebuilt aircraft

10 take-off accidents, two fatal with three fatalities
19 landing accidents (3 in seaplanes)

13 forced landings following power loss (one confirmed fuel exhaustion)
5 gear-up landings
4 gear collapses
5 fatal crashes under unknown circumstances (6 fatalities), including two in gliders
3 stalls, one fatal, the other two after power loss on short final
One fatal wire strike, a crop-dusting accident, 3 wingtip strikes, and a taxi collision.

As you might have suspected, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the worst:
Friday — 18 accidents, 2 fatal, 2 fatalities
Saturday — 9 accidents, 1 fatal, 2 fatalities
Sunday — 11 accidents, 3 fatal, 5 fatalities

There were 3 helicopter accidents during the week – no fatalities – that are not included in the above numbers, so despite snarky comments regarding rotor wing aerodynamics or lack thereof, the heli pilots are doing a pretty good job.

Makes and models covered the spectrum: gliders, antiques, a few warbirds, several twins, high performance singles, basic aircraft, a crop duster, a banner tower, one Light Sport Aircraft.

While old aircraft, as a group, carry their age well, there appear to be instances where something broke. Was there anything that should have been replaced sooner?

For pilots, as usual, we have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves that confidence fades more slowly than proficiency. All the hours in the logbook are just that – wonderful memories but the most critical flight is the one we’re about to make. Have we actively managed the risks or are we just letting safety happen? Challenge yourself and your fellow pilots, respectfully, to actively look for the possibilities. The next Fourth of July will be great one – be there!!!

(Thanks to David Kenny – ASF’s Safety Database Manager for the statistics)

Practical Test Standards – OK or Too Weak?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Some people complain that the FAA Practical Test Standards (PTS) are not sufficient for today’s flying complexities. I’m not so sure about that and here’s why. The basics of not crashing airplanes haven’t changed in decades but the legalities have. In our frequently over-thought, bureaucratic and legalized interpretation of just about everything, common sense often gets bounced because someone was clever enough to create a loophole and someone else wasn’t smart enough to call them on it. Thus things get rewritten and “strengthened.”

The current PTS on every certificate largely dwells upon physical flying skills: Takeoffs, landings, ability to hold headings, altitudes, adhere to clearances, flying by reference to instruments, etc. The guidance is pretty clear. Let’s take a few examples from the Private PTS:

Takeoffs: Follow proper procedure for the takeoff roll, liftoff at the recommended airspeed and maintain Vy +10/-5 knots. etc.

Landings: Establish proper configuration, maintain a stabilized approach +10/-5 knots, touch down at or within 400 feet of a specified point with no drift etc.

If everyone adhered to these basics we’d have almost no takeoff and landing accidents, which account for about 50% annually.

How about the “incredible” complexities of assessing today’s navigation? The PTS handles this elegantly – Demonstrate the ability to use an electronic navigation system, locate the aircraft position, intercept and track, recognize station or waypoint passage, recognize signal loss, etc.

What more could you want? It’s fairly simple for an examiner to determine if the pilot knows the box even if the examiner isn’t quite certain of the nuances of a particular system. Most know where the stations and fixes are located in their area and they know when the applicant is floundering. If in doubt, perhaps the examiner’s own hand-held unit could be used to keep at least one front seat occupant oriented. I’m sure there will be some different views on that and would welcome them.

Here’s what’s tough on tests. To the extent that it’s possible, a superficial assessment is made of judgment or decision making. In the artificial world of checkrides, everyone is going to play it conservative and we don’t really get to see how someone will react until they think no one is watching. Bad judgment is where serious accidents happen – usually an entanglement with weather or stupidity involving low level maneuvering. We might consider offering continuing guidance by CFIs to help their newly certificated private or instrument pilots make the right call in the real world. Call it “service after the sale.”

If anyone knows of a pilot applicant who passed a checkride after a crash, where there wasn’t a mechanical problem, and the applicant was manipulating the controls, a prize is in the offing. Suitable proof and not just hearsay must be presented (That was a loophole slamming shut and there’s probably one I’ve missed)

If everyone adhered to the basic skill level in the various PTS, we’d have many fewer accidents. Do we need stiffer requirements? I don’t think so. In almost every case the accident pilots weren’t flying to the standards we already have. Are you up to the standard? Could you pass a checkride on your next flight? Might be fun to try.

What do you think?