Archive for December, 2011

Savoring Flight and a Reminder

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In this holiday week one wants to think of family and friends and how we might get along a little better nationally and internationally. I’ll leave the inspirational messages to others  but in thinking back over the last year, I still am awed about what aircraft allow us to accomplish. I’ve had the privilege to be flying a number of decades now and it’s sometimes too easy to be casual about the gift of flight. If you recall, last June we discussed International Learn to Fly Day and my suggestion was that every weekend should be looked at as an opportunity to take someone flying.

I occasionally practice what I preach and took a young man, age 15, flying with his dad in the back seat. He was understandably a bit apprehensive but it was great fun to watch his expression as the ground fell away on takeoff. We flew to a nearby towered airport so he could get to hear some ATC communications. Upon landing, he was in the usual “bubble over” mode. The anxiety was  replaced by extreme enthusiasm based on the experience and the fact that he had conquered the fear he’d felt.  It rekindles my enthusiasm every time and reinforces the commitment to work hard for the preservation of GA.

Again, it’s been another tough week for safety. We’ve had too many fatal accidents and in the newspaper interviews I’ve done this week, the reporters have actually been quite reasonable in their questions and write-ups. Online comments by some of the readers however is infuriating. It would be helpful to get some of these people up in an aircraft, responsibly, and show them how this activity can be done with great safety. Nuff said. As usual, we’ll be tracking the details and all will be posted in the ASI accident analysis section as the NTSB issues its analysis.

Safety Reminders – FAA has published new flight-duty time rules for professional pilots. Fatigue is less of an issue for Part 91 GA pilots but we still need proper rest and when tired the errors compound. A quick review of the ASI Safety Brief on Fatigue provides some pointers.

A new accident case study regarding the mission mentality has just been posted. It all seems so clear in hindsight and yet the pilot just wanted to save a life. The view from behind is always much better.

Remember to take someone flying if the opportunity presents. If anyone is inclined to make a last minute gift to the foundation (fully tax deductible, of course) we will invest it more wisely than your government will to preserve the future of GA.

The blog will stay in the hangar next week but we’ll be airborne again in 2012. Join us!  Wishing all a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Realistic Expectations?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Based on the quality and quantity of comments from last week’s blog – in political parlance it looks like “the base was energized.”  How opinions varied! As is typical of pilots, with any dozen you’ll get at least 24 strong observations.  At the time I wrote this on Tuesday morning,  the statistics shook out as follow:

  • 71% thought ongoing education was the best solution and recognized that some losses were unavoidable.
  • 14% thought judgment and decision-making could be effectively taught.
  • 10% believed that staging an intervention would help.
  • 6% thought technology could be beneficial
  • 0% voted in the poll for more regs but a few of you made comments that additional enforcement might get a lot of attention.

My brilliant observation is that a mix of all of the above would likely yield the best results – probably in about the proportions shown above but your mileage could vary. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a plate glass window (I may have garbled that but you get the idea.) Expand the tool box and the results are better – a crow bar works about as well as a hammer on windows!

Does anyone know who has done any research on teaching judgment to humans, especially over the age of 20? The hard part is the follow up over the ensuing decades to see if it really resulted in a long-term behavioral change. According to one of my psychiatrist friends (Personal relationship – not professional!) our personalities and risk tolerances are largely set by age 14. By the time one enters the flight training system at age 16 or 45, according to my friend, our ability to influence is limited. Those that are careful and methodical, are and those that aren’t, are not. Is this absolute and can people older than 14 still learn? Of course, which is why 71% voted the way you did.

As we work on improving flight instruction, the whole business of teaching risk management is worthwhile. Explain and study the high risk areas. Communicate clearly and know that a few will ignore or forget the hard lessons that we discussed last week. Perhaps the biggest challenge is being realistic in our expectations and knowing how much time and treasure to put into attempting to reach the unreachable.

It’s a little surprising that technology didn’t score higher because there has been a marked decrease in fuel mismanagement accidents in new technology aircraft with flow transducers and ” idiot lights” that are independent of programming. When the light comes on ” Ya got about 5 gallons left in this tank – Jack! ” One of the biggest reductions in accidents in history was the invention of the nose wheel – ground loops largely disappeared. For the airlines, it was the advent of the jet engine.

Old Age

We discussed the issue of aging pilots a couple of weeks ago in conjunction with the loss of the OSU women’s basketball head and assistant coaches in an accident involving a 82 year old pilot – probable cause has not been established. The Air Safety Institute now has a new online course for aging pilots so please invite all of your slightly “mature” aeronautical acquaintances to give it a peruse and let us know what you think.

A Tough Thanksgiving (and some hypocrisy)

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

There were a number of fatal accidents over the Thanksgiving weekend, and while in my previous blog I lamented that we ought not to be speculating too publicly, the preliminary investigations do not bode well for pilot decision-making. Below are the facts that we think we know at this point.

1. Medical flight with five people on board crashes in Illinois – 3 fatalities. The flight went from GA to IL with only a few miles to go to destination.  Strong NW winds apparently slowed the ground speed aboard the Piper Navajo. From the Chicago Tribune, Pilot told air traffic controllers moments before, “We are out of fuel and we are coasting.”  NTSB noted there was no fuel in the tanks or on the ground. Fuel exhaustion?

2. Turbo Commander 690 on a beautiful VFR night slams into a mountain with 6 fatalities. The weather is reported as 26003 KT 20 SM SKC. There is speculation about configuration of Phoenix Class B airspace and the pilot attempting to stay below it to avoid ATC. Controlled flight into mountainous terrain at night while VFR?

3. A VFR pilot (according to the flying club manager) is returning his daughter in a Cirrus SR20 to college along with another daughter and a friend – 4 fatalities. Weather at the crash site is reported as 9 OVC 1 3/4 sm  -RA BR. VFR into IMC? No IFR flight plan has been located at this writing.

All the pilots involved were reasonably experienced and had been flying for some time according to acquaintances. Aftermath—Three pilots deleted from the already declining pilot population, 12 passengers who won’t be around for next Thanksgiving, multiple families and communities devastated by these losses, more negative publicity for GA.

Both the Foundation and the industry have been in ongoing discussion with FAA and NTSB on how to address GA mishaps like these.  Were these systemic failures or individual failures?

  • Is it possible that any of the pilots did not know the risks involved?
  • Have we in the industry not done a good enough job of explaining the risks?
    • Fuel is needed for engines and the rules require a reserve.
    • VFR at night runs the risk of not seeing mountains – there is no rule for avoiding mountains per se but you won’t be happy with the results.
    • Flying in the clouds is extremely hazardous unless you’ve been trained to do it—there are minimums for VFR flight.
  • Is it possible that despite all the warnings that people become complacent or ignore them – certain that they can some how succeed?

Some think more regulation is the answer. In two cases a violation of Part 91 seems highly likely. In the Phoenix accident should we make it against the rules to challenge a mountain?

Most of these questions are rhetorical. Friends within FAA and NTSB have privately acknowledged that “We can’t fix stupid.”, but by the nature of their positions they must continue to try.  Whether these incidents fall in to that category won’t be known for certain until the investigations are complete. Learning from past mistakes really is the best way not to become a statistic. Nobody sets out to kill themselves, their passengers or their loved ones. Teaching decision-making to all pilots seems like an easy non-answer because the absorption capacity and risk tolerance varies so greatly.

Is technology the answer? Fuel flow transducers are capable of predicting to the gallon when the engines will go silent. Synthetic vision and TAWS predict impact in time to avoid it and autopilots are capable of keeping aircraft under control when the pilot can’t. Can we change human nature? Can we make the aircraft foolproof? Does everyone need the same level of oversight and at what cost to personal freedom and bank account? While political correctness may dictate one answer, does reality provide another?

Constructive suggestions are welcomed.