GA Accident Rates Down – and Yogi Wisdom

May 2, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

Yogi Berra is the malapropism king of the world and purveyor of some primary truths. For the younger readers, Yogi was a star baseball player and manager for the hated (or beloved) New York Yankees. It seems appropriate to misquote Yogi in looking at the latest GA accident numbers. There’s the sense of “Déjà vu all over again.” According to the NTSB preliminary 2011 numbers:

  • There was an increase in GA accidents from 1,439 in 2010 to 1,466 in 2011
  • Fatal accidents decreased from 268 in 2010 to 262 in 2011, but fatalities were up slightly
  • The overall GA accident rate declined to 6.53 per 100,000 hours—the lowest since 2005
  • The fatal rate was down to 1.17, declining from 1.23 in 2010—that almost matches the record set in 1999.

Take these numbers in context—measuring the number of hours flown is an imprecise science—hence the denominator is always a little suspect. Assuming that sampling errors are always the same, the relative change may be correct.

“You can observe a lot just by watching.” Profound thought for pilots—we really should be learning a lot more from other people’s mistakes, yet accident pilots consistently believe that Newton’s laws of gravity is just a passing fad. The mistakes are the same—every year.

This next line is priceless when applied to aviation: “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.” Too many of our departed friends compared themselves to Bob Hoover, or merely a competent IFR pilot when, in fact, they weren’t especially good at aerobatics or instrument flight. Maneuvering flight continues to be a leading killer, as is weather—how many times have we said this?

“Baseball is 90% mental—the other half is physical.” So what about flying? My estimation is that it’s about 60% mental, 30% physical, and 75% judgment. The math may not quite add up but the idea is simple. You can overcome any skill level with enough bad judgment. There were accidents in 2011 that will cause some head shaking as we try to ascertain what the pilot was thinking. Sadly, there will be some others where someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time—this applies especially to passengers.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Decision making is an area we should spend some additional time on, both in training and in what the airlines call IOE or initial operating experience. This means that when we get a certificate or rating that confers new capability, take time to listen and learn even though you’ve passed the test…Ditto for checking out in a new model of aircraft. A logbook endorsement just means that you satisfied the paperwork requirement and there is still some real learning ahead.

“It ain’t the heat; it’s the humility.” Some pilots could stand a bit more humility because too many of our accidents occur to experienced folk who got complacent and/or distracted.

There are many more Yogisms, but his most famous is “It ain’t over, til it’s over.” For pilots, too many times after an accident—it’s over. Safety happens on every flight, so we have to out-think Murphy (Murphy’s Law) every time. Murphy only needs to win once, but we have hundreds of thousands of pilot who do it every year. You can be one of them!

We’ll have a much deeper look into the GA accident picture in the next edition of the Joseph T. Nall Report, which will be published later this year. The latest issue is available online.

The causal factors won’t change much. As Yogi said,“Déjà vu all over again.” And again…and  again.

GA can do better and this year’s numbers show very modest gain. Perhaps we could try to best this record all over again next year.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • http://AOPAASIBlog Charles F. Thom II

    “You can observe a lot by just watching.” I tell all my students, while waiting in line for takeoff, to critique each landing for errors, and for good corrections. What they see might come in handy for some future landings of their own.

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Charles…. A great saying that also applies is ” No one is ever completely worthless – they can always serve as a bad example.” That really applies to flying as we seek to teach why doing things in a certain way yields good results and being “creative” is often not such a good idea.

  • pranesh dey

    Hi Bruce,
    Yogi in Indian means an ascetic. The country has lots of yogis as people back here, who think destiny guides our lives, have an weakness for them and keep flocking to them for worldly wisdom. As far as I am concerned, for wisdom I have never turned to an yogi but always relied on flying wisdom (I am not a pilot though) in day to day life. It has held me in good stead so far. I’m already 37. I believe ‘flying wisdom’ is the most distilled form of all the practical knowledge one can learn in life to avoid danger. But here’s an yogi, Yogi Berra, who one can actually turn to for tips. Thanks.