What can we do?
December 1, 2019
To be a good pilot...
The leading causes of general aviation (GA) accidents may come as a surprise to most GA pilots. In a June, 2019 article by Janice Wood, published in the General Aviation News, Wood said: “from 2008 to 2017, fatal accidents from controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) — another leading cause of GA accidents were reduced by about half.”
She then included a list of the top 10 causes of GA accidents. The first three items in order on her list are:
1. Loss of control (LOC) in flight,
3. Engine failure.
What seemed to this author as most striking were numbers one and two! What could be the reasons so many aviators are losing control of their aircraft during flight? Why are so many flying their aircraft into the ground, etc.? Are pilots becoming complacent, distracted, overly task saturated, fatigued, or quite simply lazy?
Let’s take a look at fatigue and distraction. We all have or do experience fatigue caused by a myriad of reasons. These may include poor choices on our part, circumstances beyond our control, or some combination of both categories. An article published in the Business Aviation Insider, May 13, 2019, aviation psychologist and fatigue expert Dr. Vladimir Nacev said, “Lack of sleep, physical exhaustion and too much stress lead to fatigue. Fatigue deteriorates cognitive functions.” He added, “It affects recall and mental processing.”
Dr. Nacev continued, saying, “Consistency and structure play a major role in mitigating the stress that contributes to fatigue. Frequent practicing for contingencies and emergencies – reviewing checklists, mentally performing procedures or simply having a routine to prepare for trips – increases confidence and lowers anxiety.”
Are today’s aviators so trusting of glass panels and electronic information that we lose our situational awareness? Are we so confident of the newer technologies that we have simply become complacent? Are we significantly distracted with the multiple displays and the large number of sub-menus on them that we keep our heads inside the cockpit far too much? Are the very technologies designed to make flying more efficient and ultimately safer the likely causes, in part, of LOC or CFIT incidents and crashes?
The FAA published a document June 13, 2019. In it they said, “A LOC accident involves an unintended departure of an aircraft from controlled flight. LOC can happen when the aircraft enters a flight regime that is outside its normal flight envelope and quickly develops into a stall or spin. It can introduce an element of surprise for the pilot.”
“LOC is the number one root cause of fatalities in GA accidents. More than 25% of GA fatalities occur during the maneuvering phase of flight. Of those accidents, half involve stall/spin scenarios.”
Again, the question is why does this continue to happen?
Let’s recall some of the contributing factors that can cause LOC. They may include:
• Poor judgment or poor aeronautical decision making.
• Failure to maintain proper airspeed.
• Failure to follow procedures.
• Pilot inexperience and proficiency.
• Failure to recognize an aerodynamic stall or spin and execute corrective action.
• Use of prohibited or over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol.
• Intentional failure to comply with regulations.
Is it a lack of caring about rules and regulations that allows these things to happen? Remember, nearly every rule or regulation about flying was born out of a situation, incident or tragedy that happened from initial tests, trials, and exploration as aviation has continued to develop and improve. But, it is still up to the person flying the aircraft to be in charge, in tune, on track and prepared to fly the airplane from start to finish.
We cannot let anything distract us from flying the airplane, following the regulations and proper safety procedures. So what is distraction you might ask?
Dr. Richard Lanning, in a July 1, 2019 article says: “distractions are a dangerous element in flying, whether IFR or VFR. A distraction is the process of diverting one’s attention from a required area of focus or task— thereby hindering, or even completely blocking the reception of vital information or addressing a critical task.” He continued, “Mental interruptions may be caused by several things; the lack of the ability to pay attention to a task at-hand; the absence of interest in the preferred object of attention; or more commonly, a shift of interest due to the novelty, the great intensity, or the attractiveness of something other than the required focus of attention.”
So how can we avoid distractions?
According to Dr. Lanning, quite simply know your systems; keep a clear mind; maintain a sterile cockpit; and be in command.
Remember that you are the pilot in command. You are calling the shots for every phase of your aircraft operation and flight from the initial walk-around to the final tie-down. Stay alert and focused on the big picture as well as the task at hand.
Don’t lose your situational awareness. Keep your head on a swivel so you don’t get buried in tasks within the aircraft.
Bear in mind there are many aircraft in the air and maybe not far from where you are. If you have your head stuck in the cockpit and the pilot of an aircraft that is rapidly approaching yours has a similar situation, well, you can imagine what could happen next!
FAA Safety Briefing Editor Susan Parson says: “today’s technology provides the foundation for an unprecedented level of situational awareness. We just have to use it for that purpose and pay attention in order to repel the all-too-human attraction to technological distractions that could detract from flight safety.”
If you are an aviator who takes a break from flying in the winter, there are a number of simple, easy and fun things you can do to help keep your mind in “flying mode.”
This will help you stay sharp, or at the least, sharper and will make it easier to come back up to speed mentally when the new flying season begins. Also, it will give time to practice and enhance your use of checklists and safety responses.
Start with a thorough review of the FAR/AIM. If you haven’t done that recently you might be unaware of some changes that could impact your next flight. Then go spend some time sitting in the cockpit of your aircraft in a warm hangar. Use that time to do several beneficial things. Take out your check lists. Read each item, then say each item aloud while touching each light, button, switch, gauge, or lever. Do this at a minimum of three times every time you take the opportunity to make your winter hangar flying productive.
During your winter down-time or in fact any time of the year, you can practice your flight, navigation and procedures drills by using a computer flight simulator.
There are several very good flight simulator programs that will help you practice everything from cockpit set up to instrument approaches and more. Also, they are fun and the graphics are amazing.
Next, take your Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) and go through all of your aircraft’s emergency procedures. Again, touch each switch, button ... whatever is called for, while aurally repeating what you read in the POH emergency checklists.
By verbalizing and touching the associated device, you will be building mental and muscle memory. This way if and when an emergency situation arises, you will very likely handle it more smoothly, efficiently and effectively, because you have physically practiced what to do.
Bear in mind that when your actions are smooth, they are most often efficient. Actions that are efficient, are naturally fast. Don’t focus on trying to be fast. Concentrate and practice on being smooth and efficient.
Speed of actions will be a natural result of “smooth and efficient” however, consistent practice is the key to making these actions a part of you and your natural responses in your aircraft.
Bring a fellow aviator to the hangar with you and let them help assure you don’t miss any checklist items. Better yet, as the season begins to change, take advantage of that first flight and go up with your favorite flight instructor. Use that time to practice go-arounds, stalls and emergency procedures.
Having the professional in the right seat will help assure what you practice is the most beneficial and correct action for the given training/refresher situation.
Frequent practice is a key to your success, safety skills, proficiencies and professionalism, and a great way to reduce the possibility of experiencing LOC and CFIT.
An aviation quote says: “to be a good pilot, the airplane needs to become a total extension of your mind and your body.” A second aviation quote reads: “aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, is very unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.”
updates/?newsId=93885&omniRss=news_updatesAoc&cid=101_N_U *** https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/2016/media/mayjun2016.pdf firstname.lastname@example.org, or @avi8rix for Twitter fans) editor of FAA Safety Briefing. She is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor.