The Safety Pilot column in the January issue of AOPA Pilot was “Curb Their Enthusiasm.” Two accidents citing judgment errors brought an enthusiastic response from some younger pilots asking why I was drawing attention to such things when the aviation business was doing everything it could to attract young people. Great question!
I learned to fly young, while in college, and pursued aviation with great enthusiasm throughout my young adult years and beyond. This column was written knowing that it would stir some different views, and that “telling it as it is” would be uncomfortable for some readers.
As a young pilot I desperately wanted to prove that I could do the right thing. Frequently got the benefit of some old pilots explaining, sometimes not too gently, that what I was about to do was not safe. It kept me alive and made me smarter.
Young pilots don’t know what they don’t know—of course, that applies to older aviators as well. However, youthful optimism is well-documented. It’s been well-researched that the human brain does not truly develop its cognitive skills until the mid-20s. (There are some people I know who are well beyond 25 and are still lacking in the cognitive area.)
Here is just one source, and you can find dozens of references on the web:
The primary message of recent groundbreaking neuroscience is that cognitive maturity develops last, after physical and mental maturity, for all adolescents. This research shows that cognitive maturity occurs in the mid-twenties…
Surprisingly, incomplete cognitive development of the brain lasts well through college years and, therefore, has enormous implications for the responsibility of parents and university administrators to that group. We fail young persons when we give them “just the facts” and say “you decide” without guiding them to and supporting them in making the best decisions. We fail them when we expect them to control their impulses and avoid risk behaviors, when we abandon them at critical decision-points to their own minds—minds with a limited capacity for abstract thinking…”
Higher car insurance rates for young people is just one example of addressing risk-taking behavior and is documented beyond any question. Try renting a car below the age of 25. The rental companies have had too much bad experience. Does this apply to flying? I think in a broad sense it does—people are people. Individuals will certainly vary, but that’s not how systems address problems.
There was another disaster involving a 17-year-old student pilot from Alabama who went joyriding in the last week or so with two friends in IMC that adds credence.
Because we do everything possible to educate pilots about safety and to encourage people of all ages to fly responsibly, there is also the responsibility to point out when someone uses really bad judgment to serve as a bad example. AOPA and the Foundation are strong proponents of having young people fly, but doing it responsibly is essential.
Balancing public relations desires and aviation safety is never easy!
Now to the “mature” pilots—don’t get too smug.
Just last year the Air Safety Institute mounted a major education campaign to deal with the safety of older pilots, so we cover all sides of the age question. Older pilots have their problems as well, and they’ve been documented.
Identifying what happened, to whom, and under what circumstances lets us put limited resources to the greatest effect. Some readers may not agree on this point, but perhaps this explains the motives. Chainsaws and aircraft make no allowances for enthusiastic misjudgment regardless of age.
When you see something that may be ill-considered regardless of age, speak up respectfully. Continue to mentor and encourage young people to fly and to learn from the mistakes of those who went before. You’ll last a lot longer.
Your contribution to the Foundation helps AOPA in its efforts to attract more pilots to our community and keep them flying safely. Consider a tax-deductible donation today.