Hi, I’m Bruce Landsberg and welcome to the Leading Edge. We’ll discuss safety-of-flight issues, procedures, techniques, and judgment. With the convective nature of Internet misinformation, and so much content that is over weight and out of balance, you need an experienced and trusted source. So, strap in and let’s go fly!

Media Bogusity and Truth

July 22, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg
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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and media must rake muck even if it’s wrong. Facts, apparently, are no longer required. The New York Times, which once proclaimed “All the news that’s fit to print,” has now switched to “All the news that fits (our preconceived notion) we print.” Last week the NYT printed a poorly researched op-ed that tried to equate GA’s safety record to the airlines—again. This follows USA Today’s so-called “investigative report” several weeks ago that cited this invalid comparison. We’ve written about this bogusity many times (a new word I just coined—derived from Bogus).

Rather than refute the NYT point by point, which AOPA President Mark Baker did immediately in a letter to the NYT editor, let’s try a different tack: News flash…GA is NOT the airlines, and the most dangerous part of the trip is the drive to the airport!

GA is not as safe as the airlines—(except where we fly multiengine, multi-crewed turbojet aircraft—that record is as good as or better than the airlines). Light GA accidents (light GA is where most of the crashes occur) result from pilots’ misjudgment/poor skill. Did the system fail or the individual? Were pilots not aware of the risks they were taking? In most cases I believe they were. Listed below is an ASI safety education program for each risk area (and in many cases there are additional safety courses, publications, videos, and case studies covering a particular risk topic). No other personal activity goes to the effort GA does, in general, and the Air Safety Institute, in particular, to lay out the risks. No other activity is as heavily regulated, and it’s almost impossible to crash without breaking some specific or common sense rule.

  • VFR into IMC?—What part of cloud don’t you understand?
  • Thunderstorms?—Shredded airframes and extreme upset await.
  • Ice?—Most light aircraft do not fly well in it.
  • Stalls?—It’s angle, not speed. Failure to understand this geometry is to not understand the essence of flight.
  • Gas?—Gotta have it.
  • Takeoff and landing?—Minimum safe runways lengths must include a margin well beyond what the test pilots found in certification. Try the ASI 50/50 solution.
  • Weather?—It’s what you see—not what was forecast.
  • Old aircraft?—Not that much of a problem, but like all things they must be maintained, and there are too many examples of shoddy maintenance and deliberate shortcuts by owners.
  • Buzz jobs?—Totally dumb—’nough said!

Our fatality numbers have improved by about 40% over the last two decades—something that’s lost on media and sometimes on the regulatory authorities in the rush to do what they do. There is less flying, so the rate reduction as near as we can measure it isn’t as much—but it is lower. In comparison to other risky activities, GA losses are small and innocents are seldom involved (but let’s strive not to have any).

So why all the attention? See the opening sentence. We’re pushing back and you can too. Note the bulleted list, train regularly, and help fellow pilots understand that arrogance or ignorance is not life-prolonging.

We can do better–GA can be safer. Death and destruction are poor selling points and bad for business—this is true in motorcycles, skydiving, personal watercraft, ATV riding, skiing, and mountain climbing. But in any performance activity there is a natural accountability—something that’s missing in too much of today’s journalism, which is all about sell—not truth.

Does GA’s training system have some holes? It does. We should be, and are, working to address that. But show me any human activity that doesn’t. Risk management unfortunately doesn’t equate to risk elimination. The airlines are a business: and for a business it’s about money. But for us: it’s about being as safe as you choose to make it—your life, your passengers, and our collective reputation ride on it. Do it well!

Want to help? Make a contribution to the AOPA Foundation Image program.

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

What was I Thinking?

July 16, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

LostMyJobToday1“I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking” should be the mantra of any of us who’ve done something aeronautically that may have seemed like a good idea at the time but perhaps not so much in retrospect. Country music fans will immediately recognize a Dierks Bentley signature song. Had the privilege of meeting Dierks last week while visiting Cirrus Design, located in Duluth, Minnesota, where a friend describes upper Midwest weather as “Nine months of anticipation followed by three months of disappointment.” However, on this one day the weather was spectacular and so was the mood.

Cirrus delivered several aircraft this week and Dierks delivered two concerts: one for the folks in downtown D and a gratis hangar mini-concert for Cirrus employees and customers. He is the embodiment of what we need in GA—a hardworking, unassuming guy who’s very good at what he does. Anyone who thinks a musician’s gig is easy should try it. (I played in college and decided that the world would be far better off if I took up flying—that choice might be debated, as well.)

Dierks’ schedule has him on the road every weekend until sometime in December. With children and a wife, this creates problems unless there’s access to one of our time machines. He’s a most enthusiastic proponent of GA and uses the aircraft to commute home every week. Unless traveling from the 30 biggest airports, schedule will be at the airlines’ convenience. If the dominoes start to fall due to weather or the usual hub-and-spoke issues, you’d better factor in a lot of flex/delay. This is not to imply that GA is delay free, but my absolute worst scheduling snafus have been on common carriers—sometimes extending into days. That hasn’t happened flying myself—yet. The Cirrus transports Dierks with a high degree of reliability, and he’s even infected a couple of band members with aviation fever.

Dierks played two songs that resonate GA safety. We often ask after an accident, “What was the pilot thinking?” The lyrics of the first song, “What was I Thinkin’,” aren’t slanted toward aviation but rather a sweet young lady’s shotgun-toting daddy. Bad outcomes abound whether it’s VFR into IMC or the business end of a shotgun.

The second song, “Drunk on a Plane,” also has obvious nasty implications if you’re PIC. But, if seated in Row 7 A and getting over a personal problem—maybe that’s different.

Here’s to Cirrus and Dierks for bringing some extra spirit to GA. Spread the word!

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz

Clueless in Barcelona?

July 9, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

Last week we discussed the effects of culture and automation confusion in the cockpit. This week an Airbus 340 crossed a runway in Barcelona, Spain while a B-767 was on short final. This kicked off a new media round on runway incursions and serves as a great reminder that while it doesn’t happen often, it’s one of those low probability, high consequence incidents that can go really bad, really quickly.

As usual, we speculate on cause, but the effect is clear. According to unofficial reports, the Boeing balked the landing at about 200 feet agl and was about 3000 feet down the runway. Based on the camera angle and the effect of foreshortening, it appeared perhaps a bit closer to the ‘Bus than it was in actuality. That said, this is a graphic depiction of what was almost a major accident and serves as a good example of how NOT to do things.

  • At this writing, we don’t know what role ATC played—did they direct the Airbus to cross?
  • Did the controller forget that the Boeing had been cleared to land?
  • What was going on in the Airbus cockpit?
  • We know that the Boeing crew reacted exactly as they should have.

The FAA has grouped incursions based on how close the collision nearly was. It’s worth perusing the definitions. My estimation is that this was either a category A (a serious incident in which a collision was narrowly avoided) or B (an incident in which separation decreases, and there is a significant potential for collision which may result in a time critical corrective/evasive response to avoid a collision).

On the ground there are several inviolate rules—especially for those of us that fly single pilot:

  • No programming while taxiing—either load the beast before leaving the ramp or after reaching the run-up block. No in-between unless one is devoted 100 percent to driving while the other is loading—split personalities are not allowed! I really like ground power switches which allow getting a clearance and loading it into the FMS without powering up the entire stack or starting the engine.
  • Always know where you are on the airport—duh. Airport charts are now universally accessible either in instrument approach chart booklets or electronically. Lost? Ask for progressive, especially after dark or in IMC.
  • Sterile cockpit while on the ground, especially with passengers until there are no more runways to cross. Operations take priority over friendly discussion.
  • Coming to the familiar runway entrance red and white sign? Default is to stop unless you’ve been cleared. Are you SURE? Verify if in any doubt. But—wait for it—if cleared, is the runway clear? ATC doesn’t make mistakes often, but it only takes once so Mom was right—always look both ways before crossing.

The cockpit voice recorder and ATC tapes will make clear what is or is not so obvious now. Distractions can be deadly—but you knew that.

GA pilots continue to account for almost 80% of runway incursions, so we’ve got some work to do…especially as single-pilot operators where the proliferation of cockpit automation fights for our attention. That’s why ASI offers a free online course about runway safety to anyone with Internet access.

Bruce Landsberg,
President of the AOPA Foundation

ASI Online Safety Courses  |  ASI Safety Quiz