Last month we discussed the FAA Practical Test Standards and whether they were stringent enough and current for today’s environment. My view was that if all pilots flew to Private Pilot PTS the number of accidents would plummet. Most of the commenters seemed to agree. Contrarian opinions are still accepted.
A few of you mentioned judgment or “critical” thinking. In my view, most judgments involving aircraft become “critical” if one waits long enough but to oversimplify flight training into the three parts:
1. Physical skill – handling the aircraft
2. System/ Aircraft knowledge – Performance numbers, operating the avionics, knowing the regs etc.
3. Judgment, decision-making, critical thinking
Pilots can often be very good with the first two and make a fatally bad decision despite years of success, or luck, which results in VFR into IMC, descent below IFR minimums, or buzzing, etc.
The hard part is how to infuse the right mindset into those prone to misuse the hardware. The airline and military flight systems have two ways of managing this: They generally weed out the inept and the trouble makers although the Continental Q-400 accident in Buffalo where the Captain’s training record was not exactly stellar shows an occasional flaw. There’s also a fairly robust system of oversight that makes it tough to stray too far without some one else knowing about it and blowing the whistle, either internally or externally. This is one of the fundamental differences between GA and the more structured environment.
GA could give up much freedom, improve the safety record and likely decrease in size fairly quickly. Or, continue to accept gradual improvement and tolerate individual lapses as a cost of doing business. This approach is used in other personal transport activities: cars, motorcycles, boats, etc. despite the fact that these modes kill many more innocent bystanders and participants then GA. That’s a good philosophical question!
Teaching critical thinking such that it results in a consistent change in behavior without a lot of external oversight and expense, is very difficult. In spite of this, ASF has produced a number of programs on decision-making. We offer a free DVD or online course to every new private pilot and instrument pilot to help them learn the process. We have anecdotal evidence it helps but nothing in this business is 100%.